Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer for the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said that her state is ground zero in a nationwide attack on union workers. She and two other Wisconsin union officials flew to New Jersey for the unity rally.
"Our fight is New Jersey's fight," said Bloomingdale, who spoke with The Associated Press before the noon rally. "And New Jersey's fight is Michigan's fight. Michigan's fight is Ohio's fight for America to reclaim our middle class."
About 3,100 people were at the rally, said New Jersey State Police Sgt. Brian Polite. Thousands of public workers and union sympathizers were expected to attend, and up to 58 unions will be represented. Tea party activists planned an opposing rally at the same time and place.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to end nearly all bargaining with public employee unions to help balance the state budget. The Republican Assembly passed his proposal, but Senate Democrats who oppose the plan but lack the votes to stop it have fled to Illinois to keep the vote from taking place.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was to be out of state during the rallies, has proposed raising the retirement age and requiring public workers to pay more for pension and health benefits. He said he supports Walker for taking strong actions to balance the state budget but says he supports "responsible" collective bargaining.
Union leaders, however, see Christie's proposals as attempts to weaken organized labor, which can be a powerful ally to Democrats. All 120 legislative seats are up for re-election in New Jersey in November, and Christie has made no secret of his desire to wrest control of at least one house from the majority party.
Asked about the rally during Thursday night's "Ask the Governor" call-in program on Millennium Radio's 101.5 FM, Christie said the protesters "should stay in Wisconsin."
"What we're doing is trying to put New Jersey back on the path of fiscal soundness," he said. "Their problem is, they don't want to pay their fair share."