Thousands of Police, Firefighters Rally Against Layoffs, Benefits Plan

Union leaders say layoffs are making New Jersey less safe.

Thousands of unionized police and firefighters rallied at the statehouse Thursday against layoffs and Gov. Chris Christie's plan to have them contribute more to health and pension plans.

Throngs of public safety workers from across the state delivered a loud message to Christie, pointing to a 2009 campaign promise that police and firefighter pensions would not be changed.

New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Anthony Wieners has pointed to rising crime, coupled with police layoffs as putting state residents in danger. 

“The new normal in New Jersey is New Jersey has a crime problem," Wieners said, using a play on Christie's "new normal" budget message. "We are here to deliver a message in one loud, unified voice, that enough is enough."

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Gloucester County Democrat and union organizer, also drew boos for backing Christie's plan to have workers pay 12 to 30 percent of their health care premiums.

Several Democratic lawmakers joined the rally in a sign of dissent from Sweeney. The crowd repeatedly yelled for Sweeney to address his support for Christie's plan.

"You have earned the right to negotiate your future," Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono told the crowd.

Some elected officials said Christie was targeting the middle class while supporting the state's wealthy residents.

"The working people of this state need to get together and fight this class war,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen). “We are now in a battle.”

While national media attention has focused on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's effort to eliminate most collective bargaining, Christie has said he "loves" collective bargaining. He has pledged to be tougher on public employee unions at the bargaining table.

Benefits must be limited to ensure the system's long-term fiscal health, Christie has argued. The state's pension system for public workers, including teachers, police officers and firefighters, is underfunded by $54 billion, according to the governor's office. 

Christie called the Thursday's event a "me first rally" at a press conference, but said he respected the state's first responders, NJ.com reported.

"I agree with him," said New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association President Bill Levin. "Every time the bell rings, every time shots are fired, you people say, me first, I go in first."

State troopers estimated around 7,000 people attended the rally, an agency spokesman said.  The crowd filled the block in front of the statehouse and overflowed into the park across the street. It was the second major public worker rally in Trenton in recent days. 

Dan Grant March 05, 2011 at 06:02 PM
Max or what ever your real name is your fears are just silly unless you feel your comments might embarrass your children. I spent 40 years active in the local political arena as an Active Democrat in a Republican Town and voiced plenty of opinions and positions in opposition to the local power. I have family here and raised two kids here who went through the public school system. I said what I believed and although the politcal opposition counld get a little nasty, I never was fearful about how it would effect anyone I said what I wanted to say and no didn't wher I stood. Man up Max. Isn't that the erm.
Dan Grant March 05, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Back to the topic. I worked with Montville Townships employees for 15 years. They are dedicated and hard working people who signed on to protect and serve and to work for the good of the Township. They were guaranteed a rate of compensation that included benefits in exchange for their work. They keep the Township operating and looking good as long as they have the tools to work with and most don't take retirement until well past the time they could. Police and paid Fire have a legitimate age at which physical limitations begin to creep in and it becomes important for both their safety and the publics that they retire. There is nothing wrong with that.
MadInNJ March 05, 2011 at 06:13 PM
Does anyone else notice the similarities - http://www.theonion.com/video/incomprehensible-shouting-named-official-us-langua,19417/ Think about it.
Kevin Nedd March 05, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Reminds me of the last GOP National Convention when Republicans were screaming "drill baby drill!" at the top of their lungs during Sarah Palin's speech.
Louis C. Hochman March 05, 2011 at 07:07 PM
We've deleted several more comments for reasons similar to those stated above, and this thread has is getting pretty far offtopic regularly. We'll now be closing comments on it.


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