TRENTON – The Jersey Devils’ mascot stands on the floor of the empty chamber, grinning up at the public union workers and reps who jam pack the gallery here in the Assembly in anticipation of the governing body’s vote on a package of pension cutting bills.
“That’s what they think of us,” rails one man, a retired teacher, leveling an infuriated gaze at the fixed-grin mascot.
“This so-called reform would require us to contribute at least 1.5 percent of our salary toward our health care, and essentially cut my pension by nine percent,” says Christine Hammershmidt, vice president of the M.C.C.E.A.
“Open warfare,” says the retired teacher, speaking only on condition of anonymity. “We didn’t endorse him last year so he’s angry. But what he doesn’t remember is he was invited, and didn’t come.”
But the problem Hammerschmidt and other union members have today is with the legisalture, which they don’t expect to reverse course on the bills package that came out of committee last week over the lone “no” vote objection of Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Fanwood).
“They’re not listening to our concerns,” says Hammerschmidt. “They will tell you one thing, but what’s aggravating about this whole process is this seems to be on a fast track.”
The union rep thinks the reform measure is little more than a stimulus to retire about 10,000 seasoned teachers so that they’re ranks can be replenished with rookies on diminished pay scales.
“NJEA has not contributed one penny to a political candidate since January,” Hammerschmidt says.
The Devils’ mascot waves up at some of the kids in the crowd here who are accompanying the teachers, causing some adult angst.