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NJ labor unions take revenge on erstwhile Dem allies

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August 5, 2011

By David Godow

New Jersey

Following the success of Republican Governor Chris Christie's efforts to strip state workers of collective bargaining privileges and force them to pay more towards their health and pension benefits, the state's AFL-CIO has begun to retaliate against complicit lawmakers. On Thursday, union members voted not to support Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Sen. Donald Norcross, both Democrats, at their annual endorsement conference. As a result, two of New Jersey's most prominent Dems will themselves without the substantial monetary and campaign volunteer aid unions provide for re-election campaigns.[1]

The backlash comes after Sweeney and 21 other state legislators - 8 senators and 14 assemblymen -- agreed to support Gov. Christie's June 28 pensions and benefits bill. Christie's proposal set up a new state panel of union representatives and state officials to decide state employee health benefits, suspending collective bargaining until 2014. Pension costs were cut by eliminating cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. Supporters said the bill would save the state $3 billion in health benefits over the next 10 years and $120 billion in pension payments over 30 years.[2]

The split in the state's Democratic Party over Christie's proposal, mirrors a widening gulf between the state's private and public sector unions. Private sector unions were less enthusiastic about punishing Sweeney and Norcross, with 100 members of the Building Trades Council actually walking out after the endorsements were denied. AFSCME, the influential union of state and municipal employees, abstained.

Still, opponents of Sweeney's compromise were able to round up more than enough votes to deny the two legislators the 67% percent support they need for an endorsement. Norcross' reaction to the result? "We have our teabaggers in labor and they spoke very clearly."[3]

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