ST. LOUIS - "New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is in there right now, getting $10,000 a plate to transform America. But the vision he has is sick and wrong," Richard Von Glahn, organizing director Missouri State Workers' Union (CWA-MSWU) Local 6355, told union and community activist as they rallied outside of the Ritz Carlton here September 26.
"In just two years he has restricted or eliminated the right to collectively bargain for over 750,000 New Jersey workers," Von Glahn added. "Police officers, firefighters, teachers, social workers - the folks that help keep us safe, that help keep our country strong, Chris Christie says we don't deserve rights on the job."
"Is that the America you know and love?"
In late June Christie, a Republican, threw union contracts out the window and enacted law forcing unions to pay more into their pension and health care benefits packages. Unions says that the law violates the state and U.S. constitution, and have sued the governor in an attempt to stop its enactment.
According to unions, the law deprives workers of their due process rights by suspending pension adjustments, unilaterally increasing employees' contributions, underfunding pensions and delegating to pension committees the undemocratic authority to reduce pension benefits and change eligibility requirements.
In short, Governor Chris Christie, like Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, has attempted to eliminate collective bargaining for public-sector workers.
According to Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, this law "illegally takes away benefits that school employees and others have already earned through their service to the people of New Jersey."
The law would especially hurt current and future retirees by raising the retirement age from 62 to 65, by freezing the annual cost-of-living adjustment and by forcing workers to pay 3-to-30 percent of their health care premiums.
Governor Christie claims that cuts to public-sector union pension and health care benefits are necessary due to the struggling economy and budget deficit. He also claims that the overhaul will restore the state pension system to 80 percent of funding in 30 years. It is currently at 62 percent of funding.
However, many doubt his attempts to balance the budget are sincere, as he has also eliminated taxes on the rich and wealthy.
"Christie eliminated a tax on millionaires that 74 percent of New Jersey residents supported. And at the same time he eliminated the earned-income tax credit that helped the working-poor. He has raised tuition. He has increased the cost of public transportation," Von Glahn continued.
"Chris Christie is literally taking from the poor to give to the rich."
"Is that the America we know and love?"
According to the Von Glahn, the millionaire's tax affected 16,000 New Jersey residents. "By eliminating it," Von Glahn added, "Christie raised taxes on over 600,000 workers and seniors."
"He has forced budget cuts on local communities and on school districts that have had to respond by laying off teachers and support personnel. He has forced the lay-offs of social workers. People my union represents. People who keep kids safe," Von Glahn added.
"Is that the America we know and love?"
Many right-wing republican funders are urging the New Jersey governor to consider throwing his hat in the 2012 presidential ring. People like David and Charles Koch, billionaire conservatives who have bank-rolled anti-union, pro-tea party efforts all of the country, are solidly behind Christie.
If they get there way, public-sector unions won't have any rights anywhere in the country, which is why union members and activists from the Service Employees International Union, Missouri National Education Association, the State Workers' Union, the Communication Workers' Union, Unite Here and Jobs with Justice gave Chris Christie a nice "Show-Me-State" welcome, and collectively said: "You're not welcome here!"
Photo: Tony Pecinovsky/PW