As reported by nj.com, two of the most prominent Democrats in the state legislature-both labor leaders-lost the support of a major union coalition Thursday, spelling possible trouble for their November reelection fights. The statewide AFL-CIO, representing 30 unions of public and private-industry members, voted in the annual endorsement conference not to support Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Sen. Donald Norcross. Losing endorsement means those legislators would not likely receive campaign funds direct from AFL-CIO’s political fund and any campaign help from coordinated labor volunteers.
The move was seen as a success by public-sector unions, led by Communications Workers of America and AFSCME, who moved to pull support from legislators who voted against union interests in a recent fight over public pensions and benefits. With Sweeney as prime sponsor, Governor Christie signed a combined pensions and benefits bill on June 28. The bill only passed the Legislature after Democrats, 8 senators and 14 assembly members, sided with Republicans. Public workers now must pay more toward health care and pensions, and lost the right to collectively bargain health care terms until 2014. All Democrats who voted to support the bill were denied support Thursday, as was John Amodeo, a Republican Assemblyman and crane operator.
However, Thursday’s decision caused a split with private-sector union members, whose benefits were not affected by the legislation and who fought to lock endorsements for Democratic legislators who work in construction trades. Sweeney, a member of Ironworkers Local 399, and Norcross, member of a electricians’ union and outgoing head of the Southern-New Jersey Central Labor Council, are two of six current legislators who have risen through the ranks of building trades unions to political careers in the state legislature.
Rae Roeder, head of CWA Local 1033, urged the approximately 1,000 delegates to vote against the Senate President. Swiveling to look around the room to lock eyes with Sweeney, Roeder said, “I’m turning round to look at the person who stabbed us in the back.”
Hetty Rosenstein, CWA area director, said she preferred to view the day’s vote as a positive endorsement of every lawmaker who voted against the pensions and health changes. “It shows it makes a difference to us, what they do,” she said. “Collective bargaining is a red line.”