TRENTON – After he unveiled seven tenure reform bills Wednesday, Gov. Chris Christie spoke about buried treasures and attention to detail in union negotiations.
His administration’s handling of ongoing contract hash-outs with the Communication Workers of America, the largest state employee union, will define the negotiations with all of the smaller unions that follow behind.
“We have 90 separate non-economic issues we have to resolve with (the CWA) before we get to the economic issues,” he said today during a press conference.
He responded to a state comptroller’s report that found nearly $22 million in clothing allowances for 27,000 union employees last year. Christie picked out, in particular, white-collar office workers who aren’t required to wear uniforms, yet receive $700 per year to purchase them.
“This is the stuff that’s imbedded in the collective bargaining (contracts),” obscured from public view, Christie said. “If you don’t think it’s designed to do that, then you’re naïve…Once again Jon Corzine sopping to the public sector unions.”
He commented on another well-crafted clause found in the toll collectors’ contract as the state moves toward privatization of their service. The coin and bill handlers have civil service bumping rights over snow plow operators.
“Can you imagine if we privatized,” Christie said. “How do you think that would work? These people don’t even have (the required) driver’s license.”
The contract allows for a two-month period to get the appropriate license.
He said these little tidbits – dropped in some subsection of paragraph F – always come back into play.
“You don’t think they’re important until you’re operating under the contract,” he said, glad that he’s the one in the room doing the negotiating this time around. “I think the collective bargaining process is a vigorous process, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
He said the initial negotiations probably won’t wrap soon. “These negotiations tend to pick their pace up when they move toward a deadline.”
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean said of the uniform allowances in a press release: “It is an absolute outrage that non-uniformed public employees are paid uniform allowances. This is seen by taxpayers for exactly what it is – a back door salary increase that is being hidden from the public eye.”