Members of the Local 108, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) held a demonstration in front of Town Hall in Morristown, calling for protection and accountability, saying that their jobs were going to be replaced by automation. Principally, they blamed Nicole Fox, Executive Director of the Morristown Parking Authority, for “bargaining in bad faith.”
According to Union President Charles Hall, the garage attendants were the object of union-busting efforts by Fox.
“Some of the booth attendants have been at the parking authority for 20 years,” one of the demonstrators said, “We were in the midst of negotiating with the union and out of nowhere she just said, ‘I’m getting rid of all the booth attendants, your job is gone.’”
Union members wearing red shirts and hats on Tuesday carried signs, marching in front of Town Hall, eliciting honks from passing cars. Former department worker Miles Johnson, who helped unionize the workers, chanted into a megaphone.
Fox was named Executive Director in August of 2021, following the death of her predecessor, Michael J. Fabrizio. She had previously held the position of Passaic County Improvement Authority Executive Director and had been a Morris County Improvement Authority consultant.
“The ironic part is that they indicated to us that they wanted to negotiate,” Hall said. “We sat down in the beginning of the year. We sent our proposals. They were willing to negotiate everything we sent them. We exchanged thoughts and ideas about their proposals versus ours. They came back less than a month later and told us that they now want to go to automation in garages. It was the first we heard of it. I said, well, where’s your automation plan? When is this happening? They had no idea when this is happening. Is there going to be training for these employees who’ve been here five, 8, 10 or 20 years? They had no answers, they pulled this out of thin air. It was like the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Hall said that workers had “the rug pulled out from under them” by the Department and workers who had paid into the pension system were treated unfairly. “At the end of the year, Nicole Fox got a 23% increase and $10,000 bonus. They bought a brand-new luxury vehicle,” he said, with union members showing a picture of a Ford Expedition with municipal plates. “I can’t see them plowing any snow or anything else with it, they drive around in it, and they think that people should make minimum wage? It’s like ‘we don’t care about you. We don’t care about people. In fact, we don’t care that you have been here for 20 years. We don’t care that you live in Morris County. We don’t care that you live in this town.’”
Chris Comprelli, an enforcement officer, said that he had been working in his position for seven years and claims he had been harassed and bullied by the Executive Director. He charged that she was “illegally attempting to get rid of the union” and further slammed her, saying she had been continuously attacking honest employees. Comprelli listed bad working conditions and inadequate pay, and further said he had been sick from anemia-related illness in the breakroom. He claimed Fox attempted to obtain his medical records without his consent.
A job listing for Parking Enforcement Officers listed by Deputy Director Vincent Quatrone advertised full-time (40 hours a week) and part-time positions (24-32 hours a week) starting at $16.50 an hour. Full-timers would be entitled to “sick and vacation paid leave, pension and health benefits.”
After the demonstration, the union members and Fox met inside the Town Hall. Fox defended herself and denied retaliating over unionization efforts. She also addressed the council saying that she had adhered to the rules, rejecting that she or anyone in the department had done anything outside the scope of law.
Fox told the Morristown Green that she “tried to hold employees accountable for their job performance” but it “has not been met with smiles.”
One of the demonstrators, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from Fox, gave Insider NJ a document outlining the union’s grievances with the executive director. Included were copies of memos and communications between Fox and employees regarding pay issues and sick time, as well as resolutions highlighting salaries.
The documents, the source said, had been sent to the NJ Labor Relations Board, Public Employment Relations Committee, Governor Phil Murphy, and Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill. The source said so far their complaints had not received a response from Sherrill’s office or the governor.
The demonstration outside also had the support of Larry Hamm, a long-time veteran activist who ran against US Senator Cory Booker in 2020, and leader of the People’s Organization for Progress. Hamm said he was there to support the union members and Charles Hall, a friend of his.
“Over the years, we’ve had a long standing relationship,” Hamm said of Hall and the Local 108. “I’ve walked on a number of picket lines with them. He asked me to come up here today. But with this particular fight these workers here are making low wages. They need higher wages, they need better working conditions, they need security, and they need an employer who will bargain in good faith. You know, they do their jobs in good faith and so their employer should come to the table in good faith. It’s a shame that this country is so prosperous, but we still have workers who are making less than a living wage, not making enough money to pay the bills and support their families.”
Hamm said he had just come from Rutgers University, where an ongoing strike has paralyzed the school’s campuses. “I literally was on the picket line at Rutgers, I got off that picket line at three o’clock, and I came up here to join this picket line with Charlie, because he was with us on April 4, when we marched for Dr. King. You know where Dr. King was working when he was assassinated? He was in Memphis, trying to help the sanitation workers organize a union, because they had no union representation. They were getting killed in the huge garbage compactors and they were making slave wages. And that’s where Dr. King was and I think Dr. King would be on a lot of these picket lines today, if he could, if he was still alive.”
After the Second World War, Hamm said, 49% of labor was organized. “Today, only 11% of labor is organized in this country. Now for the first time, more workers are organized in the public sector than in the private sector. There has been a degradation of life for working- and middle-class people. Many workers had a kind of middle-class lifestyle, because they could make good wages, but that’s been degraded. One of the main reasons is because of the efforts to keep labor from being organized and fight labor where it is organized. It’s not an accident that we’re in this position today. Back in the 60s and 70s, you could make a good living with a high school diploma, you could get a job at a plant. You could make enough money to buy a car, buy a house, send your kids to college, not anymore.”
As the country is headed in a backwards direction, Hamm said, using Morristown as just one of many examples of the conflict between organized labor and their employers, he felt optimistic for the long run. “It’s got to change, and it’s going to change,” Hamm said. “I think it’s going to be difficult, but I think it’s going to change at some point, you will see it now that there’s an increased amount of labor activity in the United States today and around the world, in particular, in the advanced and wealthiest countries.”