A week after a handful of public sector leaders requested his immediate expulsion as president of the Southern New Jersey Central Labor Council (CLC) in a letter to national organization President Richard Trumka, state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-5) announced his retirement as president, but said he had no knowledge of the effort to oust him and received no calls from AFL-CIO leadership telling him to leave.
“Nothing, zippo,” Norcross told PolitickerNJ.com, dismissing the letter as the screed of a ragtag assortment of leaders fronted by CWA District 1 Vice President Chris Shelton, who called Gov. Chris Christie a Nazi at a rally last month outside the Statehouse Annex.
Set to retire on Labor Day as president of the Southern NJ CLC, the senator said the union leaders’ movements against him had nothing to do with his decision to retire after 16 years, though one union source said Norcross was warned that the leaders intended to demand punitive union action.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it, it’s got to be bogus,” Norcross said this afternoon of a July 7th letter by leaders with the Communications Workers of America, Professional Firefighters Association, Fraternal Order of Police and others to Trumka. Among the signers were Shelton, Dominick Marino, Professional Firefighters of NJ president; and Ed Brannigan, president, NJ Fraternal Order of Police.
In its complaint, the union leadership cites Norcross’s aye vote on pension and benefits reform (S-2937) as the chief reason for censure.
“With regret, we the undersigned file this complaint under the AFL-CIO Constitution and Rules Governing Central Labor Councils and hereby request the expulsion from office of Donald Norcross, President of the Southern New Jersey Central Labor Council,” the letter reads.
“Mr. Norcross has acted several times in complete contradiction of his sworn duty as President of the Central Labor Council and against the principles of both the National AFL-CIO and NJ State Federation, specifically endorsing and personally acting to eliminate collective bargaining rights for hundreds of thousands of public sector union members.”
The letter surfaced amid labor back chatter concerning the upcoming elections and the potential for a divide within the ranks of labor as public sector leaders nurse wounds over the outcome.
“Now, unions within the NJ State AFL-CIO will seek to use one vote to discredit and dismiss the entire pro-labor lives of many of these excellent candidates,” said New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council President Bill Mullen, referring to his organization’s roster of endorsed candidates, including Norcross and Sweeney.
“We will not let that happen,” he added. “New Jersey’s building trades are proud to stand with Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator Donald Norcross, Assemblyman John Amodeo and the many other worthy candidates who did not follow the NJ State AFL-CIO’s wishes on one issue. If the NJ State AFL-CIO is going to let one vote dictate who is and who is not going to get their endorsement, the Building & Construction Trades Council unanimously have agreed to continue to stand together and walk out of their convention alongside our Building Trades Legislators. We will not stand idly by and watch the NJ State AFL-CIO do what we have fought a lifetime against….endorse on one vote.
“I’ll speak for our 150,000 members in New Jersey that we support Donald Norcross.”
The brother of powerful South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross III and political stablemate of Sweeney, who led the pension reform effort in the Legislature, Norcross took the oath of office a year ago on the resignation of Dana Redd, who left the Senate to become mayor of Camden.
“The National AFL-CIO President should immediately expel CLC President Norcross from his office and from membership in any Central Labor Council in New Jersey,” according to the letter. “There is no way that Mr. Norcross was unaware of the legislation’s detrimental impact to collective bargaining, especially in his role as CLC President.”
Especially galling to public sector union leadership here, according to the letter, was Norcross’s decision to speak in favor of the bill on the floor of the Senate and to promote his efforts at seeking the bill’s passage.
“Not only did Mr. Norcross speak in favor of the legislation, but he posted a video of his speech on his Facebook and YouTube websites to promote his comments to a wide audience. In the speech, Mr. Norcross cited his ties to labor to rationalize or offset his vote to gut collective bargaining rights.”
Norcross today defended his pen-ben vote.
“The fact of the matter is I looked at the pension system and was completely turned off by the lack of action by governors and union leadership,” he said. “We were in a position where we could either let the system crash and burn or take action. We took action, and we have saved the life for those pensioners because of what their leaders didn’t do.”
Although the letter to Trumka contained the names of no one beyond the public sector circle of New Jersey labor, one source within that circle described Norcross’s position in labor following his vote as “untenable,” which the senator laughed off as extremist palaver.