Saturday, April 4, 2009
After 15 months without a contract, public works employees have begun holding "Passover protests" to bring public attention to stalled negotiations with the township the app reports. The Passover reference is not meant to protest serving the township's Jewish residents, but to draw their support, workers and their union representatives said. The Public Works Department is on duty 24 hours a day for three days during the Jewish holiday, which begins Wednesday. The department has the extended hours to assist observant Jewish residents whose activities are restricted during the holiday. "We put those signs out in frustration. We have nothing against the Jewish community," Tony Ruiz, a union shop steward in the Public Works Department, said at Thursday's Township Committee meeting. Outside, some 20 workers stood with signs that read: "Passover Protest: Public Workers Are For You. Help Us Get a Fair Contract." The signs also have been placed around the township. Several Orthodox Jewish residents standing nearby expressed satisfaction with their garbage pickup service and said they support the workers, though none would give their names. The workers and their union, Teamsters Local 97, say the township has been unyielding in contract negotiations, even though they say Lakewood public works employees earn on average at least $2 an hour less than their counterparts in Toms River and Brick. Public Works Director John Franklin said he was abiding by a negotiation process that the union desired. As for the Passover protests and the signs around town, he said: "That's all foolishness. Those signs are illegal, and we're (picking) them up where we find them."