NJ Public Workers Swarm Trenton As Gov Chris Christie Tries to Rip Them Off
As David Cay Johnston pointed out last year, public employees in Wisconsin had negotiated a deal whereby some of their pay would come in the form of benefits, so asking them to "pay more" for their pensions and health-care, after they had negotiated those contracts in good faith, was tantamount to giving them a paycut.
This is frequently the case with public unions. They take less in wages in exchange for better benefits. But the relentless assault on public workers isn't limited to the mid-West. Traditionally "Blue" states like New york and New Jersey are getting into the act.
Thousands of angry government workers swarmed New Jersey’s Capitol on Thursday and some were briefly arrested, one day after Gov. Chris Christie and legislative leaders agreed to sharply increase the contributions public employees must make into their health insurance and pensions plans.
The proposed deal, which has yet to come to a vote in either house, would be a major victory for Mr. Christie, transferring billions of dollars a year in expenses from the government to its employees, and once again curbing the power of the governor’s favorite foil, the public employee unions.
It would eliminate the longstanding practice of negotiating health care payments in contract talks with the unions, instead imposing those terms through legislation. The proposed deal puts Mr. Christie firmly in the ranks of fellow Republican governors who have curtailed public workers’ collective bargaining rights this year, including Mitch Daniels of Indiana, John Kasich of Ohio, Paul LePage of Maine and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
But the recent conflicts in those states have been strictly partisan affairs, with Democrats opposing moves made by Republican majorities. In New Jersey, the battle over pensions and health care has turned into an intramural fight among Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, threatening to shake up the party’s leadership and weaken it in coming elections, thereby strengthening Mr. Christie’s hand.
Currently, most state and local employees pay 1.5 percent of their salaries for health insurance. Mr. Christie’s proposal would phase in a sliding scale, requiring higher-income workers to pay a bigger share of their insurance premium. For a typical worker making $65,000 a year, the cost of full-family coverage would rise to about $3,600 a year, from about $1,000.
Employees’ pension contributions would rise immediately from 5.5 percent of their salary to 6.5 percent, and then, in stages, to 7.5 percent. On a $65,000 salary, the increase would come to $1,300 a year.
Union members packed a State Senate hearing in Trenton on Thursday, the first one to take up the proposal. Like thousands of their compatriots in the State House hallways and on the lawn outside, they noisily protested what they called an assault on collective bargaining and a betrayal by key Democrats.
At one point, chanting protesters brought the hearing to a halt, which lasted until the State Police forced about two dozen of them out of the chamber. They were arrested, but then released.
“There is a campaign across the country to use this economic crisis as an excuse to destroy the rights of working people,” said Robert Master, regional legislative and political director of the Communications Workers of America, the union that represents the largest number of state employees. “Real Democrats would not have collaborated with Chris Christie to make this attack on the democratic rights of public workers.”
Another official from the union, Christopher Shelton, compared the governor to Adolf Hitler, telling the crowd "Welcome to Nazi Germany" and "It’s going to take World War III to get rid of Adolf Christie," according to the Associated Press. Mr. Shelton later said his remarks were inappropriate, and apologized.
The bill would affect about 400,000 state and local workers and is expected to go to a vote next week in both the Senate and the Assembly, where legislators say most Democrats will vote against it. With Republicans sure to line up behind the measure, however, even a minority of Democrats could help pass it.