Teachers erect tent city; union protests continue at Statehouse

The union protests against the proposed overhaul of the state’s pension and health benefits system continued this morning with teachers setting up a tent city on the grounds across from the War Memorial.

“I was born into a union family. I never thought I’d see this.’’

The speaker is Peter Vala, an associate director of research with the N.J. Education Association, and he was referring to the massive overhaul of benefits and pensions under way.

Vala said they set up 115 tent sites this morning on the grassy area adjacent to the Old Barracks, and were seeking permission to stay overnight.

In addition, they planned to have a large presence inside the Statehouse at the Assembly Budget Committee and the full Senate voting session today.

And this is just one of two union protests today.

Led by Revolutionary War re-enactors, a group of public employee union members were set to march across the Delaware River via the Calhoun State Bridge and head to the Statehouse about 10 a.m.

At about the same time, the demonstrators camped out in tents were preparing to walk up Barracks Street to West State Street to join the first group in front of the Statehouse where inside, the pension and benefits makeover was being dealt with in two chambers.

The Assembly Budget Committee took its crack at the plan this morning after the Senate Budget Committee passed it last Thursday during a day of protests.

Later in the morning, the full Senate is scheduled to vote on the proposal.

One of the protesters’ key complaints is that the plan under consideration will deprive them of collectively bargaining benefits and will instead impose them by legislation.

Vala said it is important for people to understand that what is being legislated will have long-lasting consequences.

“They’re never going to make up that salary,’’ he said in reference to the added pension and benefits payments teachers will have to make.

He said that the average teacher in the state earns about $68,000.  He said that when one factors in the high cost of living in New Jersey, added to the higher benefits cost they will have to pay, it will make it much more difficult for teachers to get by.

“This is not being done in a vacuum,’’ Vala said.

HE said they hope to convince Democrats that legislating such major changes is not the way to go about this.

Teachers erect tent city; union protests continue at Statehouse