The public worker unions know every step of this dance by heart, and they executed it perfectly Thursday.Uh, no, Vince, you haven't handled it well. We've got a state and nation teetering on bankruptcy and millions of private sector employees without jobs. Is it fair to ask them to pay your expenses, Vince? When even your elected Democrats are abandoning you, it's time to reassess the situation and be thankful you even still have a job.
The big rally. The civil disobedience. The songs about the working class. Even the giant inflatable rat, with a sign hung around its waist saying simply: "Betrayal"
But this time, something remarkable happened: It didn’t work. The unions, finally, lost a big one.
Inside the Statehouse, within earshot of the rally, senators on the budget committee cast a vote that amounted to a punch in the gut. Public workers would pay more for less, bringing their health and pension benefits back to earth.
"You saw the unions today do their best to intimidate people," said Senate President Steve Sweeney. "But guess what? We’re in charge. I didn’t come down here to be told what to do."
Mark this as the day that the spell was broken, the day that the public worker unions finally lost their stranglehold on the Legislature, the day that Democrats ginned up the courage to confront the most important special interest group in their coalition.
Union leaders were in a daze, like jilted lovers who couldn’t believe the breakup was actually happening.
This is Jersey, and they have been kings for a long time, even when Republicans were in power. A decade ago, they got a 9 percent pension boost just for asking. They rigged the rules on collective bargaining so they couldn’t lose, sending the average police salary to nearly $100,000. It became almost impossible to fire them, so no one even tried.
Then two things happened: The costs grew and grew, and the recession hit.
That led to the breakup. Because while politicians felt the fury of their taxpayers, the unions didn’t.
Teachers refused to take a pay freeze, despite the recession. Cops wouldn’t yield on benefits, forcing mass layoffs in violent cities like Camden and Newark. Firefighters fought to keep giant payouts for unused sick time, even as union members in the private sector were taking a pounding.
"I’m an ironworker and we have 40 percent unemployment," Sweeney said. "I got guys with tears in their eyes saying they can’t send their kids to college."
Even Thursday, when their doom was obvious, the unions didn’t seem to get it. At the rally, they sang songs about the working class and the rich, as if they were coal miners eeking out a meager wage, as if middle-class taxpayers were the greedy mine owners.
"Have we dealt with this situation well?" asked Vince Giordano, the political operative for the state’s teachers union. "Yes, without question."
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