PISCATAWAY – About 50 people from the Communications Workers of America union took to the streets in this sprawling suburban community Wednesday to get their message out to state government to “Stand Up For Workers Rights,” which was emblazoned on red and white placards they held up.
Members of Local 1037 – many of whom work for child and family services for the state Division of Youth Family Services – stood on the grounds of a volunteer firefighters memorial park on the corner of Hoes Lane and Knigtsbridge Road. They waved their placards and enthusiastically blew their kazoos to stir themselves up. In turn, they were greeted with several honking car horns from passing motorists.
Their hope is that a new contract is signed before the current one expires on June 30.
The rally was one of several similar lunchtime demonstrations staged throughout the state by the state’s largest public workers union. Other locations included Trenton (at three separate locations), Randolph, Hackensack, Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, Camden, and West Deptford, home of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).
“This is a peaceful gathering in support of the union’s attempt to obtain a collective bargaining procedure (with Gov. Chris Christie),” said Steven Smith, a CWA member who works in DYFS’s intake division. “We want the governor to negotiate in a positive non-arbitrary fashion. So far, it appears he hasn’t been accessible in meeting with the union to discuss the contract.”
Smith said the employees were “donating” their lunch hour to the picketing, which ran from noon to 1 p.m.
Many of the members interviewed fear they will be paying significantly more toward their health insurance premiums. Christie has proposed requiring public sector employees to pay 30 percent of their medical costs before medical insurance coverage kicks in.
Sweeney has offered an alternative proposal with a sliding scale.
“We have to stand up and come to common ground by meeting in the middle,” said Darrin Hopkins, a family services specialist with DYFS.
Fred Brown added that maintaining health benefits the way they are is the driving issue.
“It is to help our families,” he said about the benefits. “I hope it doesn’t increase to a level that is irrational.”
By Hopkins’ estimation, his annual health care contribution of $900 would skyrocket to $5,000.
Another issue, according to Leslie Schwartz, a paralegal technician, is to make sure their pensions will still be there by the time they retire.
“We don’t want to be left stranded,” she said. “They haven’t properly funded the pension system.”