NJ unions hold unity rally for Wisconsin workers

February 25, 2011 2:26:59 PM PST
The fight over collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin is really a battle to protect the middle-class across the country, said union leaders from the state who spoke at a rally at New Jersey's Statehouse on Friday. Union voices from Wisconsin joined the rally in Trenton on Friday.

"Thank you New Jersey for standing with Wisconsin," Stephanie Bloomingdale said.

Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer for the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said that her state is ground zero in a nationwide attack on union workers. She and two other Wisconsin union officials flew to New Jersey for the unity rally.

"Our fight is New Jersey's fight," said Bloomingdale. "And New Jersey's fight is Michigan's fight. Michigan's fight is Ohio's fight for America to reclaim our middle class."

About 3,100 people were at the rally, said New Jersey State Police Sgt. Brian Polite.

Labor leaders say New Jersey's Governor Christie and Wisconsin's Governor Walker are using budget crises in their states to break the unions.

"We didn't cause the economic crisis, but we will help solve it," Richard Trumka, Nat'l President of the AFL-CIO, said.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to end nearly all bargaining with public employee unions to help balance the state budget. The Republican Assembly passed his proposal, but Senate Democrats who oppose the plan but lack the votes to stop it have fled to Illinois to keep the vote from taking place.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was to be out of state during the rallies, has proposed raising the retirement age and requiring public workers to pay more for pension and health benefits. He said he supports Walker for taking strong actions to balance the state budget but says he supports "responsible" collective bargaining.

Counter demonstrators said it's not too much to ask.

"They have to share the sacrifice. The taxpayers are the ones at the table when they negotiate," Haddon Heights resident Lorraine Little-Vassallo said.

Union leaders, however, see Christie's proposals as attempts to weaken organized labor, which can be a powerful ally to Democrats. All 120 legislative seats are up for re-election in New Jersey in November, and Christie has made no secret of his desire to wrest control of at least one house from the majority party.

Some information from The Associated Press