Judge Tells Christie: Obey the Law and Fund Pensions

 A New Jersey Superior Court Judge has taken Gov. Chris Christie to task in a ruling that forces him to contribute his share to the New Jersey state pension system, just as public workers have been doing all along.

Judge Mary Jacobson ruled earlier this week in favor of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO and 16 unions who sued Christie for violating his own 2011 pension reform law by intentionally shorting the system. The judge ordered Christie to make a $1.6 billion payment to the pension system this year.

Public-sector workers accepted steep increases in their health care and pension costs in 2011 in exchange for a promise that the state would start paying what it owed. Retirees gave up cost of living adjustments in exchange for the security of knowing their benefits would continue to be there. Public workers have never skipped their contribution. The governor is the only one who has not lived up to the deal. It’s as if he is intentionally trying to bankrupt the system to force public workers into 401(k)s.

Christie’s lawyers argued that the 2011 law—which the governor initiated, promoted and signed – was unconstitutional. It was an argument that bewildered virtually everyone, including the judge, and proved beyond doubt that Christie has no credibility on the issue.

Now he’s at it again. In an otherwise empty budget address, the governor proposed … wait for it … putting the squeeze on public worker benefits again. As New Jerseyans can clearly see, the governor has been blinded by his own political ambitions and hasn’t been acting in the state’s best interest for a very long time. Christie touted the 2011 pension reform law as a landmark achievement that would ultimately save the state pension system. Instead of blaming public workers for a problem they didn’t create, we’re asking that the governor live up to the law he signed and fully fund pensions.

Charles Wowkanech is the president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Christie Says ‘NO!’ to Buy American

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made it very clear last week where he stands on American jobs and Buy American provisions in state laws—he’s firmly against them. He didn’t veto just one Buy American bill, he vetoed five Buy American bills that passed the New Jersey Legislature with bipartisan support.

New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech said it was “inexcusable for the governor to turn his back on American manufacturers and American workers.”

‘Buy American’ equals Jersey jobs. In an economy where New Jersey needs to add 64,000 manufacturing jobs just to return to 2001 levels, no one would argue that the loss of all those middle-class manufacturing jobs has been good for business.

One of the five bills would have applied Buy American standards to bi-state agencies like the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that contracted with an Italian steelmaker for material to upgrade the Bayonne Bridge, a decision that put hundreds of U.S. steelworkers out of work. Said United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo W. Gerard:

It’s mind-boggling that a so-called moderate with national political ambitions, who campaigned on the issue of job creation, would veto a commonsense measure that directly supports American workers and American manufacturers

Read more here and here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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In New Jersey, Major Opportunities to Support Working Families on Tuesday

New Jersey families are struggling under the policies he has enacted by Gov. Chris Christie: cuts to public education, attacks on collective bargaining, and tax cuts for corporations while ignoring low-income residents. At the same time, Gov. Christie has used his veto pen to frequently block pro-worker legislation: eliminating gender-based wage discrimination, transparency in state contracts, early voting to increase electoral participation, and even a bill to stem the flow of New Jersey jobs going overseas.

Tuesday’s election gives New Jersey a chance to reverse one of Christie’s most harmful vetoes and preserve a pro-worker legislature to set the state on a better path.

We strongly urge New Jersey voters to vote Yes on Ballot Issue 2 to raise the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour and index future increase to inflation. The governor was wrong to veto a bill, passed by both houses of the legislature, raising the minimum wage. With this dollar increase, the typical minimum wage worker would see an annual raise of $980; the economy would grow by $175 million each year; and the state would add 1,500 jobs. The increase is supported by a 3 out of 4 New Jersey citizens, and is even favored by 20 major New Jersey business leaders like Dan Preston of Telequest, Inc.

For the State Senate, we endorse these pro-worker legislators to continue their fight for a working family agenda: Jeff Van Drew (1st District), Jim Whelan (2nd District), Linda Greenstein (14th District), and Bob Gordon (38th District).

For the State Assembly, we endorse strong advocates for working families in New Jersey’s lower chamber: Bob Andzejczak and Nelson Albano (1st District), John Amodeo (2nd District), Wayne DeAngelo and Dan Benson (14th District), and Timothy Eustace (38th District).

These legislators are strong supporters of bringing jobs to New Jersey by voting for a clean water infrastructure package that would upgrade local water systems in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. They stood up to a $7 million cut in state aid to neighborhood schools and worked to keep property taxes for New Jersey families low.

These legislators are focused on New Jersey working families having a fair shake. We urge New Jerseyans to vote for these candidates for State Senate and Assembly and to vote Yes on Ballot Issue 2 on Tuesday, November 5. Text VOTENJ to 30644 for more information.

Paid for by Working America, 815 16th St., NW, Washington, DC 20006. This expenditure was not made with the cooperation or prior consent of, or in consultation with, or at the request or suggestion of, any candidate, or person, or committee acting on behalf of the candidate.

Photo by New Jersey Working Families on Facebook

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New Jersey Working Families Launch Billboard Campaign in Support of Raising the Minimum Wage

As part of the statewide “Raise the Wage” campaign, the nonpartisan grassroots coalition Working Families United for New Jersey Inc. launched a series of billboards in an effort to reach more of the state’s voters. The billboards will appear at 47 locations around the state in and near the state’s most populated cities. The billboards ask voters to vote “yes” on Ballot Question #2 on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The measure, if approved, would raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 and allow for an annual cost-of-living adjustment.

New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech said, “Raising our state’s minimum wage is a step toward addressing astronomical levels of poverty and the intensifying struggle of working families to make ends meet. Not only would higher wages help families to keep up with rising costs, but it would mean that families have more money to spend in their local communities to boost the statewide economy.” The New Jersey State AFL-CIO is a founding partner of Working Families United for New Jersey Inc.

According to a Working Families United for New Jersey Inc. press release, the state has a cost of living 30% higher than the national average, while it is tied for the lowest minimum wage rate. The poverty rate in New Jersey is at a 52-year high.

Learn more about the “Raise the Wage” campaign.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Governor Christie Is Wildly Out of Step With New Jersey On This Issue

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Back in January, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill increasing the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50.

As he asks voters to elect him to a second term this fall, Gov. Christie’s veto has put him wildly out of step with a majority of New Jerseyans. A Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll released yesterday showed 65 percent support for raising the minimum wage by a dollar.

The poll found support for the increase among voters of all political persuasions: 74 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents, and 54 percent of Republicans support a policy almost identical to the one that Christie dashed with the stroke of his pen.

Gov. Christie infamously wormed out of sharing the ballot with the state’s special U.S. Senate election, featuring well-known Newark Mayor Cory Booker, at the cost of $24 million in taxpayer dollars. But all that maneuvering might be for naught, because he’ll still be sharing the ballot with Public Question 2: a constitutional amendment raising the minimum wage and tying future increases to the Consumer Price Index.

Even as Christie openly prepares to run for president in 2016, the middle finger he showed to low-wage workers in January may come back to haunt him this fall.

Sign up to get involved with Working America in New Jersey.

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ALEC Influence Over New Jersey Lawmakers Exposed in Star-Ledger Report

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting Act 10. Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 – the infamous “show your papers law.” Pennsylvania’s brand new voter suppression law. And now Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law. The common denominator is the organization known as ALEC, and a new report from the New Jersey Star-Ledger details the influence of ALEC on Garden State politicians – and the agenda of Governor Chris Christie.

Our regular readers know about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a DC-based organization that brings state legislators together with corporate lobbyists and right-wing think tankers to produce “model legislation” that the representatives can return home and introduce as their own.

98 percent of ALEC’s $7 million budget is funded by large corporations like ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart. These companies pay between $7,000 and $25,000 to become ALEC members, or even more if they want to join one of ALEC’s nine policy task forces that produce “model legislation.” According to ALEC themselves, 1,000 of those model bills are introduced into state legislatures annually, and one in five become law.

The Star-Ledger report gives examples of bills introduced in Trenton that bear striking resemblance to ALEC model legislation: banning fair share clauses, weakening teacher tenure, protecting charter schools, and helping companies get around environmental legislation.

It also details the extensive connections between the Christie Administration, ALEC, and the corporations that comprise ALEC’s membership. For instance, Gov. Christie’s former chief of staff Richard Bagger was a member of ALEC’s board of directors on behalf of Pfizer from 2002 to 2004. After serving with Christie, he’s now with the pharmaceutical firm Celgene Corp – also an ALEC member – whose executives have donated thousands to Christie’s campaign. It’s almost like he literally went through a revolving door.

New Jersey legislators who are ALEC members or have sponsored bills resembling ALEC models have raked in a combined $202,000 in campaign contributions from ALEC member corporations – $57,700 since 2010.

This sobering report is definitely worth a read, but here’s the simple question we keep asking: Between the creation of these model bills, their introduction into the legislature, to their passage, when do the people – the taxpayers who are ultimately affected by these policies – get consulted? Is it still a democracy if our elected officials only act on the whims of corporations who have paid enough for privilege of contributing to these model bills?

We call them “representatives,” but if the politicians who we elect are simply getting their bills from some corporate-backed bill-writing consortium, they aren’t really doing any “representing.” They are just delivery systems for policies that favor corporations.

“The public has a right to know how these bills are being shaped,” said Gabriela Schneider of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group, “ALEC is a group that wields tremendous influence in shaping public policy that affects a huge number of people. Those same people aren’t at the table.”

Photo of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie by Hoboken Condos on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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