Oliver trying to gain union support for pension and health benefits reform

TRENTON – Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), of East Orange, has come back to the pension and benefit reform debate with a proposal she’s hoping will end a Democratic Party stalemate, but it may not be acceptable to the wing of the party she’s trying to bring to the table.

She’s proposing a sunset clause that – after controlling costs and bringing public workers up to roughly 30 percent on health care contributions – would then allow unions to continue collective bargaining negotiations for benefits by 2014, according a Statehouse source. The thinking is that once local units have their employees contributing 30 percent for health care, why would they bargain for less, the source said.

At the moment, Oliver is not delivering a separate bill that includes the sunset provision, but rather she is trying to get buy-in from Sweeney and Gov. Chris Christie who she met with today.

“This is historically re-setting the table for bargaining,” the source said. “It forever changes the baseline.”

Oliver met with some key Assembly Democrats this morning, most of whom are supportive of full collective bargaining rights for health care and who do not seem swayed by Oliver’s attempt to bring in the progressive, union-friendly wing of the party. Following that meeting, one source told PolitickerNJ there is no doubt the Assembly will come to an agreement to move the bill, with or without a majority of membership support.

Sources in the caucus say Oliver has the votes needed to pass the bill, but so far has been reluctant to move it for fear of alienating fellow Democrats and the unions that support them. Like the Senate version of the bill, any Assembly proposal would have the backing of South Jersey Democrats as well as some in Essex.  Both South Jersey political power-broker George Norcross and Essex county Executive Joe DiVincenzo have strong ties to the governor, who is pushing for changes in pension and health benefit contributions.

The sunset provision is another clause some Democrats feel could sway the unions into supporting the bill.  Thursday, Sweeney said he plans to include a provision that would require the state to live up to its end of the bargain by making its required contributions to the pension system as well as a “non-imposition” clause that would preclude the governor from imposing a contract on state workers.

Oliver trying to gain union support for pension and health benefits reform