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Public Workers Picket for Collective Bargaining

Communications Workers of America gathers for demonstration against collective bargaining and pension reform

Drivers honked their horns as they passed public workers chanting, “We pay taxes too” and “We are not the problem."

More than 170 public workers including teachers, township employees, Teamsters, and bus drivers gathered for a rally at Bicentennial Park in Forked River as a part of the “We Are One” national demonstration.

The union members called for the government to pay their "fair share" and start participating in collective bargaining.

Union leaders began their movement in Lacey because township employees were furloughed 22 days last year in six months, causing a 20 percent reduction in salary, said Ellen Vidal, executive president of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1088.

“It’s issue based. It’s not necessarily Democrat or Republican. It’s all about the issues. It’s about collective bargaining. It’s about what we’ve done throughout the years that they’re trying to take away,” said Vidal.

This particular demonstration was led by CWA Local 1088 but people as far as Perth Amboy and Atlantic County attended, Vidal said.

 “They need to sit down and bargain. That’s the basis for collective bargaining. They have to stop back-door politics. They have to be forthcoming. Everybody has to come together with this and negotiate. That’s what unions have always done,” Vidal said.

Vidal, a Lacey resident for more than 40 years, compared the state of New Jersey to that of California in which Gov. Jerry Brown is negotiating with the unions while the governors in eight other states are shutting down, she said.

“It’s our taxpayers that are paying for the bonuses. It’s our tax dollars paying the bailouts. It’s our union members that are losing their homes and losing their jobs. We’re paying everything and doing more with less so it’s time the politicians do the same,” Vidal said.

In December, Vidal noted, Lacey employees agreed to a zero percent salary increase for three years in addition to paying toward their health benefits but before receiving the contract, they were handed furlough notices again.

“These are $20,000 and $30,000 salaries. They have the same bills to pay. You take 20 percent away, and that’s a deep cut. A lot of them are single parent households trying to do what they can and working second jobs,” Vidal said.

The township is looking to begin furlough days this month, Vidal said.

“They’re digging further into our pockets,” Vidal said.

Democrat Gary Vaccaro, who is running for the Lacey Township Committee, attended the rally to listen to the public workers, he said.

“I’m here to support the public workers of Lacey Township. I want to listen to their issues and concerns,” Vaccaro said. “I’m hoping to get us to work together as a community and trying to get the public workers and the non-public workers to try and understand each other’s side and maybe we’ll come to a solution that is a benefit to everybody.”

There needs to be better communication between the government and public employees, Vaccaro said.

He added that a lot of what is being said about public employees is untrue.

“Public workers really do work hard. Nobody is getting rich and we’re not feeding off of the taxpayers,” said Vaccaro, who is regulatory compliance and health and safety supervisor of the Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority.

“[Public workers] want to support their family just like everybody else does. There’s things that need to be compromised and changed but we should not be villainizing them and making them the cause of all the problems,” Vaccaro said.

Vaccaro said that contributing 30 percent to health benefits would be too much for public workers who are making 30 to 50k a year.

“We have to reach a compromise. As far as specifically what we could do here, I need to look at that,” Vaccaro said.

Frank Discenza of Lacey Township, a retired teacher who worked in New York City for 32 years, said public employees have already made sacrifices.

“I just think the unions across the country, they were asked to give more for their pension and health care, they understand the economy, and they did so openly and willingly,” Discenza said.

Unions were created to keep workers from abuse, Discenza said. He added that the country should have more responsible unions.

“If you were a corporation and I went to you and I said, “Mrs. Corporation, I really have a problem with workers safety,” I would get fired. But if I come to you with 500 or however many voices, then maybe somebody will listen to us,” Discenza said.

Ocean County teachers were also protesting the reforms initiated by Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie is being irresponsible with how he is representing teachers, Lacey resident said Lynn Lapsley, a Southern Regional teacher.

“I don’t feel that a responsible governor should pit the people against their neighbors and people who go to work everyday to do a good job for their kids in the community,” Lapsley said.

“We’re not happy with the governor and how he’s cheating the hard working class,” Manahawkin resident Eileen Cosentino said.

Mayor Gary Quinn of Lacey Township did not immediately return calls for comment.

The “We Are One” demonstrations, started by the CWA, are occurring internationally including in Afghanistan, Paris, and Mongolia, Vidal said. Over 450 rallies took place across the country on April 4.

John April 05, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Frank, You seem to miss the point that for the past 20+/- years Lacey has been cotrolled by the local Republicans. You say that years ago when the Dems were in control they put us on this path and caused the large increases in the police salaries. They were in control for 2 years. Since 1992 it has been an all Republican committee. I agree that public employees should be paying more for their health benefits, but, do you reallize that, the Governor could have stopped two rate increases by Horizon ( one for 8% and one for 13%). This too added to the increasing health benefit situation in this State. Further, newly hired govenment workers (can't touch contract guaranteed benefits for existing workers) should be made to contribute to a 401K of something similar. As to the local democrats, there are two of them versus three republicans. Even though they want to, they are not the majority. Until they are, don't try to castigate them for not solving Lacey's problems. With all due respect, you sound like this is a war. it is not. Stop spewing republican rethoric and become a person who will be civil and talk to (not at) people. Nothing is going to get done until we can have a dialogue among all parties.
Tim O'Connor April 05, 2011 at 08:24 PM
My point is we need to have a democratic party take over in town. That means a three member democratic majority. We need to vote anti-incumbent.
Forked Tongue April 05, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Maybe our newly elected Dems function well behind the scene. Frankly I'm less then impressed with them at the public meetings. Both seem to have trouble grasping the issues.
Dan April 05, 2011 at 11:49 PM
Democrat Republican Both need to CUT the spending........................All need to wake up the unions and show them in black and white that they have to sacrifice just like the private sector. They have to realize by now that contributing towards benefits is inevitable. Paying zero towards benefits is absolutely unsustainable. 1.5% is peanuts. Welcome to the real world.
Larry October 26, 2011 at 01:48 AM
Right on Dan.... Welcome to the real world!!

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