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NJ Senate President Stephen Sweeney, an Ironworker, is Leading the Charge to Ensure that Sandy Reconstruction Provides Good Jobs with Workplace Protections

As New Jersey prepares to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney is proposing a bill that would make some of the largest projects eligible for Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). For New Jersey construction workers who experienced high unemployment rates throughout 2012, this is good news as it means good jobs with quality workplace protections.

The PLAs would likely include local hiring provisions and guarantee prevailing wages. Sweeney’s bill was heard yesterday by the Senate Budget Committee. According to Sweeney’s spokesman Chris Donnelly,

Obviously, the damage wrought by Sandy is going to result in tons of construction up and down New Jersey,” Donnelly said. “Given our still shockingly high unemployment rate, among the highest in decades, it is New Jerseyans who are going to need these jobs the most. That is why, through this legislation, Senate President Sweeney wants to ensure that it is New Jerseyans who are going to be put to work rebuilding the state.”

Beyond helping New Jersey construction workers obtain work, the use of PLAs would greatly reduce exploitation, low wages, and the use of out-of-state workers by unscrupulous contractors looking to cash in on the disaster. In November, New Jersey’s unemployment rate remained two points above the national average at 9.6 percent. Last month, only 122,400 construction workers were employed in the state. This bill would open up large road and bridge engineering projects — with a price tag of over $5 million — to PLAs thus ensuring local workers find employment during the reconstruction.

Rick Porter, executive director of the National Heavy & Highway Coalition noted,

“In California in the 1980s, after the earthquakes, a lot of project labor agreements were applied to that work.”

The state of New Jersey is still waiting on Congress to pass aide for Sandy relief efforts, an issue Sweeney, a union Ironworker, has been on the forefront of. During the fiscal cliff showdown which delayed a Sandy Aide vote, Sweeney invited Congress to visit “what’s left of the Jersey Shore” in order to witness the ramifications of their inaction. His attack on House Republicans for not stepping up has mirrored many who represent those still waiting to rebuild.

“We may have dodged the ‘fiscal cliff,’ but Republicans in Congress went a step further: they dodged in providing Hurricane Sandy relief for New Jersey. That is unconscionable,” said Sweeney. “Our state needs relief now! That doesn’t mean Congressional Republicans just shrug and say no vote tonight. It means they go back to work for as long as it takes until something is done, period.”

Along with Republican Senator Michael J. Doherty, Sweeney introduced S-2368 which would require any town eventually getting relief aide to provide free beach access and to build free public restrooms. The measure has been popular among New Jersey citizens who have grown tired of having to pay to get onto beaches. West Debtford Township resident Kim Alvarado wrote to, thanking Sweeney and Doherty for their proposed legislation, saying:

I never understood why we have to pay to sit on the beach in most New Jersey towns in the first place. The beach and the ocean are among the greatest joys we have in New Jersey, and I believe they belong to everybody. And if we are going to pay to rebuild the shore through our tax dollars, which I fully support, then we shouldn’t be hit with another fee to pay for using it.

I know we have to maintain our beaches, but the shore towns can certainly find ways to do that without shaking us down for more money. Thanks again to Sweeney for saying what we were all thinking


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