Monday, June 19, 2006

State Budget - Ledger Blog - Unions rally in support of Corzine budget

Published in the Star-Ledger blog, Monday, June 19, 2006

Corzine addresses thousands at union rally

Thousands of public workers rallied outside the Statehouse Annex yesterday in support of a state budget that recommends the largest boost to their pension funds in more than a decade.

In a brief but passionate address to the cheering crowd, Gov. Jon Corzine, who is recommending the $1.1 billion increase, quoted President John F. Kennedy in praising the labor movement as a force for democracy and social good.

Corzine pointed out that as a U.S. Senator, he opposed efforts by President Bush to privatize Social Security, and he pledged to work just as hard to put the state's public pension funds on better financial footing.

Even with his proposed increase, the long-range health of the fund remains in jeopardy, though it currently has enough money to meet its obligations.

"I stand with you and I want to tell you again: I believe in collective bargaining,'' said Corzine, who is resisting a call by three lawmakers to seek $700 million in voluntary givebacks to help avoid a sales tax increase.

State Police estimated the crowd at 5,000, though union officials said it was twice that number. It was believed to be the largest rally since 25,000 public workers crowded State Street in June 1994 to protest Gov. Christie Whitman's budget cuts.

Workers yesterday carried signs such as "Obey the Law -Fund Our Pensions" and "Public Employees are not the Problem." Union leaders said they are lobbying feverishly -- through e-mails, telephone calls, postcards and face-to-face meetings -- to build support in a Democratically run Legislature for Corzine's budget.

"We can't continue with the gimmicks and the one-shots that continually put us in these crises year after year,'' said Bob Master, legislative and political director for Communications Workers of America District 1.

Added Joyce Powell, president of the New Jersey Education Association: "We're concerned about where they are going to find the revenue. It shouldn't come from the backs of public workers." Colleen Randazzo of Vineland, vice president of CWA Local 1034 and a worker at the Vineland Developmental Center, said the health of the pension fund is a "very very big concern" for most public workers.

Contributed by Joe Donohue

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.