By Briana Vannozzi
Bright signs and loud chants. Laid off construction workers rallied outside the office of state Sen. Linda Greenstein. It’s been 48 days since Gov. Chris Christie ordered the shutdown of more than 1,000 Transportation Trust Fund related projects. With sun beating on their backs, laborers said they’d rather be sweating on the job than on the picket line.
“It’s really hard now because the money’s about to run out and you got to choose which bills you’re going to pay and which ones you’re going to let go,” said Josephine Thompson.
Members of Laborers’ International Union of North America, like Thompson, say they’re down to their last penny. The TTF impasse is now the difference between making a mortgage payment and making a meal.
“We have thousands of members, thousands of workers who have lost their jobs because of the TTF shutdown. And we want our elected officials to know, whether they’re in the Senate, the Assembly or the governor’s office, that people are hurting,” said LiUNA New Jersey Communications Director Rob Lewandowski.
The recently unemployed are taking their frustrations and pleas for help to the offices of state legislators. Lewandowski with LiUNA estimates about 10 percent of its members have been laid off due to the work stoppage.
“Summertime is the busiest time for construction work. Think about it this way. Imagine if the retail industry lost their Christmas and holiday season. That’s what’s happening here. This is when the engineers are ready, when the supplies are ready, when the weather is good to get stuff done. You can’t do asphalt in 30 degree weather,” Lewandowski said.
Shawn Wilson had steady work on the heavily traveled Routes 280 and 21 in Newark. He was spared until just a few weeks ago.
“I worked with a very good contractor, he had to shut down the DOT jobs, but he piled everyone up on the federal jobs. And it just got to the point with his transportation fund and nothing moving he had to start laying off,” Wilson said.
“If there’s anyone to blame for the fact that the TTF is not authorized and that we’re only spending emergency funds, it’s the 40 members of the state Senate,” Christie said.
Christie today blaming Senate President Steve Sweeney for holding up his house from passing TTF legislation.
“I feel awful for them that the Senate has decided to put their own internal politics ahead of what’s good for the workers of the state, the roads. Remember something. I’m the first governor in 27 years to publicly say I was for a gas tax increase,” the governor said.
“There’s going to be costs associated with the shutdown to demobilize projects, remobilize. They have to secure these sites, make sure they’re secure during the shutdown. When in fact the shutdown is ended, all of the contractors as many of the counties have started to do are going to start filing claims. Because those unanticipated costs were not created by any doing of the contractor,” said Utility and Transportation Contractors Association Executive Director Anthony Attanasio.
Late today Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto’s office issued a statement: “…I am not interested in waiting until after Election Day or indefinitely to solve this problem. … I want a solution and I want it now. Laborers are out of work, our economy is in jeopardy and public safety is at risk. … It’s time for everyone to put their egos aside.”
So with no vote planned for TTF legislation, union members will continue their demonstrations at the office of every elected official in the state until an agreement is reached.