As reported by nj.com, the State Police should drop all charges against the protesters arrested at Thursday’s contentious budget hearing, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said today. “The issues of pension and health reform are tough and emotional,” he said in a statement. “I understand that. And as someone who has spent my life in a union fighting for working people, I know that sometimes emotions bubble over.”
Sweeney was the focus of heated criticism throughout the day for pushing a bill that overhauls the state’s pension and benefits system for public workers, requiring them to devote more of their salaries to cover those costs. The bill passed the Senate budget committee Thursday 9-4 despite an outcry inside and outside the hearing room. Before the vote, 25 union workers, including the state director of the AFL-CIO, were escorted out of the Statehouse by State Police troopers. They were promptly let go with disorderly conduct charges.
Stephen Jones, a spokesman for the State Police, said the matter is out of their hands. “It’s been submitted to the court,” he said. “At this point it’s up to them.”
The show of resistance was planned a few days before the hearing, however. Bob Master, political director of the Communications Workers of America, said they warned police “at the last minute.” “Nobody wants to resort to this kind of activity,” he said. “You want to be able to accomplish your goals through the normal legislative process, but I think people felt a sense of real betrayal here.”
Sweeney had a different take on the rancor outside. Christopher Shelton, a national CWA official addressing thousands of demonstrators, repeatedly called Sweeney, Governor Chris Christie, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver “nazis.” Other speakers disowned that comparison and rebuked Shelton from the stage.
“While the rank-and-file who protested in the committee room were largely respectful, their leaders outside were not,” Sweeney said. “When you defame the character of those with whom you differ and use over-the-top and over-heated rhetoric not to actually further an argument but simply to stir up a crowd, you degrade and diminish yourself and your cause.” Shelton apologized hours after the event, after Democrats and a national group of holocaust survivors denounced the remarks.