N.J. and largest public-workers union reach tentative contract

Gov. Christie has declared his "love" for collective bargaining. Unions have portrayed him as an existential threat. MEL EVANS / Associated Press
Gov. Christie has declared his "love" for collective bargaining. Unions have portrayed him as an existential threat. MEL EVANS / Associated Press
Posted: May 05, 2012

Gov. Christie, whose rocky relations with public-employee unions have been a hallmark of his term, has reached a tentative contract agreement with the state’s largest public-employee union.

In a brief statement released Friday afternoon, the governor’s office said details of the pact with the 35,000 members of the Communications Workers of America would be announced next week. But the CWA web site said it would include small salary increases and reduced clothing allowances.

The CWA’s message, which was highly critical of the Christie administration, said it had rejected “systematic, unprecedented attacks at the bargaining table.” The state sought 90 concessions that would have rolled back “decades of bargaining — with both Democratic and Republican governors, in good times and bad,” according to the union.

“We have accomplished our core objectives during a very difficult political and economic climate, defending the integrity of our contract against an administration hell-bent on undermining this legal right at every opportunity,” the CWA said.

Although Christie has declared his “love” for collective bargaining, public employee unions have framed the Republican governor as a union-busting threat to their very existence. This week, Christie campaigned for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican whose attempts to end most collective bargaining rights for public employees resulted in a recall election to be held next month.

And last June, with some Democratic support and despite several large protests at the Statehouse, Christie signed a law that cut New Jersey public-employee pension and health benefits and effectively suspended collective bargaining on health care for four years.

Two smaller state-employee unions have approved new labor contracts. About 10 unions are working with expired contracts.

During contract negotiations, the CWA said it sought to negotiate “job-security provisions” that might prove necessary in light of possible privatization efforts. The Inquirer reported last week that the Christie administration is considering or seeking bids for the privatization of at least a dozen functions of state government, including the state lottery.

CWA leaders, who began negotiating in March 2011, will meet with shop stewards on Wednesday to move toward a formal ratification.

Contact Matt Katz at 609-217-8355 or mkatz@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mattkatz00. Read his blog, “Christie Chronicles,” at www.philly.com/ChristieChronicles.

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