Press of Atlantic City

Governor Back In A.C. With Pledge To Workers

Corzine vows to fight for paid family leave in address to AFL-CIO

Press of Atlantic City — Thursday, June 14, 2007

By MAYA RAO
Staff Writer

ATLANTIC CITY — Gov. Jon S. Corzine expressed his support Wednesday for paid family leave, a higher minimum wage and employees' ability to unionize more easily in an address to the New Jersey AFL-CIO, which was holding a conference at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

It was the governor's first appearance here since he moderated a panel at the New Jersey Conference of Mayors in mid-April and suffered a near-fatal car accident afterward when his sport utility vehicle crashed into a guard rail on the Garden State Parkway in Galloway Township. Corzine was hospitalized for 18 days, returning to the Statehouse two weeks ago.

Corzine said he wanted paid family leave legislation, which would allow public and private workers to take as much as 10 weeks of paid leave to care for sick family members, newborns or newly adopted children, to pass by the end of the month. The bill extends the state's temporary disability insurance system and would be funded initially through an assessment of 0.14 percent of a worker's wages – increased to 0.18 percent after the first year – and deposited into an account specifically set aside for family leave benefits. In late May, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved the bill, which has been championed by organized labor while drawing strong criticism from business interests.

"Sometimes I don't get everything I want out of the Legislature," he said at the AFL-CIO's Legislative/Committee on Political Education Endorsement Conference. "This is the issue I'm going to fight for. We will get it passed."

Noting that Washington had just approved a federal minimum wage increase that was higher than New Jersey's, Corzine vowed that he would work to ensure New Jersey's minimum wage ranked among the top states. He said he would work with the Legislature to make sure "we're not behind, but we are setting the pace with regard to minimum wage."

The governor also voiced his support for workers' right to organize through card-check recognition – which would allow employees to bypass a secret ballot election and unionize as long as a majority signed union cards. Such a process is at the heart of the Employee Free Choice Act recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

"It is the right of every work to be able to join a union if they so choose," Corzine said. He said that the country's middle class was being undermined.

Other politicians and union leaders took the stage, including Assemblyman James Whelan, D-Atlantic, who asked the audience for support in his campaign for state senator. Whelan discussed his experiences as a teacher who would recommend underprivileged students to work in the building trades, and thanked his audience for giving those students an opportunity that afforded them well-paying union jobs with benefits.

"I offer myself as someone who has a record of being pro-labor and progressive ... you've been there for me in the past, I've been there for you in the past, and I thank you for your support," Whelan said.

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