McGreevey rallies union workers, points to job growth
By ANGELA RUCKER
The Love Boat it was not.
But Friday brought many of the state's labor leaders and top legislators to the Battleship New Jersey for a pre-Labor Day celebration that was part love-in, part rallying cry.
Gov. James E. McGreevey, speaking before a huge American flag to a pumped-up crowd inside a warren of sweltering white party tents on the warship's deck, tallied labor successes in the state:
Union workers are providing much of the muscle for those projects, which pleased the crowd of nearly 500 gathered here to celebrate what organizers said was the largest Labor Day event in the state.
The Peter J. McGuire Labor Day Observance, as it's formally known, is in its 109th year and was sponsored by the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO Central Labor Council. Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., were among a long list of dignitaries at the event.
As the clang of shipyard machinery droned in the background, New Jersey essentially patted itself on the back. While the country as a whole lost 2.2 million jobs since 2001, New Jersey has gained more than 35,000, officials said.
The state has an unemployment rate of 6.1 percent. That's a good start, but more work needs to be done, said Labor Department Commissioner Albert Kroll.
"In a country that can spend today $4 billion in Iraq," McGreevey said, "we need to invest in building schools, in building roads, right here in our own country, the United States of America."
Moreover, Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., said the labor movement is facing its most intense challenges since its beginnings in this country.
Even those with jobs, he said, are facing no raises or raises that are eaten away by increases in health insurance costs - an issue that has come to a near crisis between employees and employers throughout the nation.
"The time is here," Andrews said. "When health care is pushing everyone's wages down."
Later in the day, Corzine also toured the Jersey Fruit Cooperative in Glassboro at the invitation of the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
According to David Wold, a spokesman for Corzine, the senator was invited to tour the cooperative in an effort to find a solution to the overabundance of peaches due to a bumper crop this year.
After the tour, accompanied by Mayor Leo McCabe of Glassboro and a representative from the South Jersey Farmer's Bureau, Corzine promised to get in touch with the United States Department of Agriculture to find a means to distribute the fruit.
One solution Corzine proposed was distributing the peaches to area schools to be included in lunch programs, said Wold.
Reach Angela Rucker at (856) 486-2459 or firstname.lastname@example.org