Labor union leader says Sen. Sweeney threatened to ‘kick her ass’ if she were a man

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The leader of a labor union says that New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney once threatened her with physical violence during an intense meeting.

The allegations came to light during the first of several planned public forums designed to expose the mistreatment of women in New Jersey politics.

“In front of all those present at the executive board meeting, the Senate president stood up, pointed at me and he said, ‘If you were a man, I would take you right outside now and kick your ass,’” says Fran Ehret, of the Communication Workers of America.

Ehret says that the confrontation happened in 2010 during a back-and-forth discussion over state worker benefits reform. Ehret says that she felt threatened at the time.

“When a man who is much bigger than you towers over you and threatens you with violence, that is not OK,” she says. “That’s sexism and that is abuse of power.”

RELATED: Witnesses, public gather at meeting to address misogyny in New Jersey politics 

In an interview with the Associated Press, Sweeney said that Ehret led heckling against him and that she had no credibility. But it was not the only run-in that the two had. Ehret and other women have said the way she was treated is emblematic of how men in power treat women who try to affect that power structure.

“It’s not just a culture that includes sexist men hitting on women or talking about their bodies. It’s a culture of trying to intimidate women for stepping out of their place - and it’s repulsive,” Ehret says.

About a dozen women spoke at Tuesday’s meeting led by Sen. Loretta Weinberg’s Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics. Many shared their experiences with sexism and misogyny in New Jersey.

“As long as we have people in the top telling people on the bottom what to do, you’re going to have sex discrimination, you are going to have bigotry. We are going to reinforce all the negative aspects of our society,” says Lisa Foley with the group Action Together New Jersey.

Ehret said then-state Sen. Donald Norcross was in the room when Sweeney yelled at her. Norcross is now a member of Congress. Norcross’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

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