The Daily Record

Dozens Gather Outside Alex DeCroce's Office To Protest Comments On Unemployed

Daily Record —Thursday, December 23, 2010


HANOVER — A man in a Grinch costume was among about 70 people who demonstrated Wednesday outside Assemblyman Alex DeCroce's legislative office in the Whippany section of the township on Route 10.

The Dr. Seuss character was actually Dan Hurley, a 23-year-old sprinkler fitter apprentice from Washington in Warren County who has been out of work for about a year. He said he took offense to DeCroce saying unemployment benefits should be reduced to encourage people to look for work and that "benefits are too good for these people."

"We want to be out there working," Hurley said.

DeCroce, R-Morris Plains, later apologized for what he said was a poorly expressed comment made last Tuesday to a group of business leaders. The Republican leader in the Assembly said he was speaking only of "individuals who are gaming the system."

DeCroce was in Trenton Wednesday, his chief of staff, Melverne Cooke, said, but he issued a statement saying he understands there are people who need a "temporary safety net" until they have the opportunity to rejoin the work force.

"I meant no offense to those who have suffered from the national economic downturn and despite their best efforts have been unable to find work," DeCroce said. "I remain focused on keeping the unemployment fund solvent for those who have a genuine need until they find a job."

Many protestors carried signs with "Grinch" and "Scrooge" related statements such as, "You're a Mean One Mr. DeCroce" and "Bah Humbug to you Mr. DeCroce."

The demonstration was put together by New Jersey Working Family Alliance and New Jersey Citizen Action to protest DeCroce's remarks, which were criticized by the Democratic leadership among others. Gov. Chris Christie called the remarks "ill-advised" and called for a truce last week.

Several of the people protesting said they were part of construction unions, including David Critchley of Local 4 of the Roofer's Union. The construction trades have been hit really hard, according to Critchley, who said DeCroce's remarks shows he's out of touch.

Bennett Muraskin of Parsippany, a staff representative with the American Federation of Teachers, said he wanted to show solidarity with residents who have lost their jobs.

"You could be working one day, unemployed the next day," he said.

Bridget Benjamin of Verona dressed up as a rat — a common symbol at union protests. A steamfitter by trade, she has only worked two-and-a-half months in the past two years because companies aren't building or renovating as much as they used to, she said.

Her lone stretch of work came this fall when a refinery temporarily shut down so workers, including Benjamin, could do extensive repairs. She worked some strenuous 16-hour days and agreed to a 15 percent pay cut, but loved finally having some work, she said.

"It was so wonderful," she said. "Everyone was so excited to have a job."

When the refinery re-opened around Thanksgiving, the contractors cleared out and her job was gone.

Bill Holland, executive director of Newark-based New Jersey Working Families Alliance, said his organization wants to see stronger safeguards for the state's most vulnerable residents, including the unemployed.

Jackie Cornell-Bechelli of New Jersey Citizen Action said DeCroce's comments show he is "out of touch with what New Jersey families have been facing." A news release from the groups said DeCroce gets a part-time salary from the state of $49,000 a year while his wife receives $130,000 from the Department of Community Affairs where she works.

New Jersey's unemployment rate is 9.2 percent. A news release from the groups said the average unemployment check is $393 per week, or $20,436 per year, and approximately 3,000 to 4,000 resident run out of unemployment benefits every week.

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