State workers contract spawns vigorous prez challenge at Local 1040

President of CWA Local 1040, Carolyn Wade has not received a serious challenge in close to 18 years. But in the wake of what he describes as meager contract negotiation results in March of 2007, Tom Bruno says he’s a legitimate contender to head a local filled with disaffected members who are genuinely steamed.

"When people have challenged her in the past, their nomination forms have been thrown out," says Bruno. "That won’t happen with me. Other people running against her did the bare minimum. I never do anything at a minimum. I go all the way."

A former CWA Local 1040 staffer and Wade’s political point person, Bruno left the local’s inner sanctum two and a half years ago on Wade’s orders. Now he serves as lead supervisor in the Hunterdon Development Center, where he leads a 450-man strong branch of the local, whose numbers of state workers equal 7,200.

According to Bruno, the Trenton local has gotten kicked around in Trenton, and not because a relationship between Gov. Jon Corzine and former CWA Local 1034 president Carla Katz stoked a carnival-like aftermath of press coverage, or even because Sen. Stephen Sweeney’s (D-Gloucester) has repeatedly undertaken efforts to weaken state workers’ benefits packages. He’s a buildings and trades union man. Disappointing, in Bruno’s eyes. But not shocking.

No, the problem in Bruno’s eyes when it comes to CWA Local 1040 and what members should expect from leadership, has mostly been Wade’s reluctance to get tough and work for 1040 to deliver the best union contract.

"Carolyn Wade went to the membership last year and told them the contract’s not the best but we have to vote for it anyway because it’s the best we’re going to get," says Bruno. "She promised members a $12,000 bonus over four years, which was clearly incorrect. But people voted for this contract based on that and other promises."

In the four-year contract Wade and state CWA leaders helped negotiate with the state last year, Bruno complains that the 3% raise is a joke compared to the cost of living and expenses members now have to pay to cover healthcare, which was free in previous years.

"This new contract is representative of a new era of state workers not only being paid less than folks in private sector, but trading off was job security and benefits," says Bruno.

Within the larger scope of CWA politics, part of the fallout from Corzine’s affair with Katz involved Wade badmouthing Katz. That resulted in Katz suing her fellow local president. Bruno says the drama is doing damage to Local 1040's members.

"The local is having to foot the bill to pay for the legal defense of our local president," Bruno says. "She should be representing herself, and paying for it herself."

Meanwhile, Katz has her own troubles, as the ex union prez remains the target of a federal probe into her union activities, a situation that some members call little more than political punishment from national leadership for Katz stepping out of line once too often.

"Carla Katz is a microcosm of what’s going on in the CWA right now," says Bruno. "If you don’t go along with what’s going on with national, you suffer the consequences."

The notion that Corzine was seduced into a weak-kneed contract compromise because of Katz’s personal influence over him is laughable, according to Bruno.

"If Carla Katz had an inside track with this guy, it sure as hell didn’t help state workers," Bruno complains. "He’s not as bad as the Republicans, who wanted 5,000 layoffs. But it’s close. We keep paying or everybody else’s sins.

"Me, personally, I would definitely support someone else besides Corzine if another Democrat with a better union record challenged him in a primary," Bruno added. "But I would leave it up to membership to decide."

In the meantime, nominations to run for president of Local 1040 are due by Sept. 2nd. Sometime after that -probably before the end of September – members will schedule an election, which they conduct by mail-in ballot.

It’s a three-year term.

Wade did not return repeated phone calls for comment. A statement on the CWA New Jersey website reads in part, "Despite what some news stories report, we did not get defeated in the Legislature. We fought hard and beat back the worst." State workers contract spawns vigorous prez challenge at Local 1040