Protesters Suspended for Calling Out Sick

By Brian Thompson
|  Friday, Mar 4, 2011  |  Updated 12:36 PM EDT
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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was called a 'liar' today by thousands of police officers and firefighters at a rally in Trenton today.   	New Jersey reporter Brian Thompson tells us about the battle between public employee unions and politicians over budget cuts and pension changes.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was called a 'liar' today by thousands of police officers and firefighters at a rally in Trenton today. New Jersey reporter Brian Thompson tells us about the battle between public employee unions and politicians over budget cuts and pension changes.

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Three union workers who called out sick to attend a labor rally at the New Jersey Statehouse last week have been suspended.

The move comes a day after Gov. Christie told NBC New York in an interview that "people who call in sick better be sick." Christie issued his warning ahead of another labor rally that drew thousands on Thursday.

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Monmouth County officials said the three employees suspended without pay Thursday work for the county's Senior Citizen Area Transportation service and are members of CWA Local 1038.

The county said the workers were among 14 in the department who called out sick; officials alleged that 174 developmentally disabled adults who depend on the county's services ended up "waiting for buses that never came."

"These employees are being suspended without pay based on the fact that we have evidence to prove that they were not home sick as they had claimed," said Lillian Burry, a county official.

The union representing the workers, the Communications Workers of America(CWA) put out a statement through its District One calling this a "politically-motivated attack on public workers who perform vital services."

The CWA statement added "When all the facts come out, it will be clear that whatever errors in judgement were made, no one served by the county missed a medical appointment and no one should be fired."

State Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), who first complained of a "sick-out," applauded officials for the suspension, noting some workers were "caught on camera" at last week's rally.

He wants officials to keep reviewing video to see "if others were absent without proper excuse."

Meanwhile, thousands more rallied again at the Statehouse -- this time a gathering of police and firefighters protesting job cuts and changes to first responder benefits and pensions.

Labor unions have been riding a wave of national attention on labor contracts and collective bargaining, sparked in part by disputes between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and public employees there.

Bruce Chester, a Woodbridge police office attending the rally, held up a campaign letter from Christie promising not to touch police officer pensions.  When that same letter was shown on a big screen TV, officers and firefighters broke out in the chants of “liar.”

 “Enough is enough,” said Tony Weiners, president of the NJ State Policemen’s Benevolent Association.

Irvington Police Officer Jerry Ramos and Irvington firefighter Kevin Franz said they voted for Christie and were experiencing ”buyers remorse.”

At a separate news conference Thursday, Christie called the latest demonstration a "me-first rally" but admitted he made campaign promises he could not keep.

“The situation has gotten significantly worse since I took office,” Christie said “The system could be bankrupt by 2020….I’m not going to let that happen.”

Christie said he tried to meet with the state PBA president and that “the numbers are the numbers.”

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY and us @NBCNewYork,and on Facebook/NBCNewYork, and sign up for breaking news SMS alerts on your phone by texting “NYBREAKING” to 639710.

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