As reported by nj.com, a security decision by State Police to turn union members away from the Statehouse hours before the Senate went into session was criticized as unfair by a key lawmaker and public employee unions. About 50 public employee union members trying to participate in a lobbying day never got inside the Statehouse on March 21, 2011, which was the third day of collective bargaining meetings between Communication Workers of America, the state’s largest union, leaders and Governor Chris Christie’s office.
It is not unusual for groups to flood the Statehouse halls and meet with their individual representatives and talk to others in the hallways. It was the first time CWA political director Bob Master encountered a problem with members passing security. “This came as a complete surprise, and they dug out this policy from 1997, which no one had ever seen before,” Master said. “It seems like a systematic effort to prevent people from engaging in the democratic process.”
People were delayed entering the building because they were headed to packed areas, said State Police spokesman Sgt. Stephen Jones. “We are in charge of the security of that building, and we’re only going to do things in the interest of that security,” Jones said. “There was no attempt to stifle any opinion or keep any group out. We’re only concerned with the security and safety of those in that building.” When someone enters the Statehouse, State Police require a destination be designated. When a large number of CWA members all gave the same destination, police stopped the group when the room’s maximum occupancy was reached, Jones said.
Senator Loretta Weinberg questioned whether the size of the group, estimated by union officials at about 150, came close to creating any safety concerns, adding that the Statehouse has been filled with many more people on other days. Weinberg said she suspects someone told State Police to turn the union members away, but she does not know who was behind the restrictions. She added that she hopes legislation or a resolution is not needed to prevent a similar event from happening again. “I feel very passionately about this, the Statehouse is owned by the people,” Weinberg said. “I would never recommend to anyone that you try to control public opinion by controlling the public.”
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said his office was not aware of the issue and no directive had come from the administration to turn people away. “I don’t think anybody should be turned away from the Statehouse, but we leave security decisions up to the State Police,” Drewniak said.