CWA rallies, condemns pension/benefits deal

TRENTON – Prior to holding a large rally this morning at the Statehouse, the Communications Workers of America, the state’s largest public employees union, condemned a bipartisan deal between Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic leaders on reforming the state’s troubled pensions and health benefits.

“Gov. Christie wants to do an end-run around the collective bargaining process and the rights of workers and have the Legislature pass a law requiring huge increases in what state employees pay for their health care – without any input from the working families the law would affect,” said Hetty Rosenstein, state director for CWA. “The governor is now getting a helping hand from Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and a few of their legislative colleagues who call themselves Democrats.

“By attempting to take health care benefits out of the bargaining process, Senator Sweeney and Sheila Oliver are doing much more than throwing working families under the bus and into chaos: they’re attacking workers’ time-honored right to have a voice in the decisions the government makes about their jobs,” Rosenstein said.

“We expected this from Governor Christie, but we did not expect so-called Democratic leaders to abandon working families. We call on true Democrats in the State Senate and Assembly to reject this unprecedented assault of workers’ rights and insist that Governor Christie negotiate in good faith with his state’s public workers,” she said.

“Make no mistake: more than one million unionized New Jerseyans are passionate, engaged and outraged — and the soul of the Democratic Party is at stake.”

The issue of reforming the state’s pension and benefits system has caused rifts in the Democratic Party.  Earlier this week Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman issued a statement harshly criticizing her colleagues for abandoning core Democratic Party principles.

Then on Wednesday key Hudson County Democratic lawmakers jointly issued a statement pledging not to support the Oliver/Sweeney/Christie proposal.

According to the CWA, Christie and Sweeney had been pushing for months to reform the benefits plans legislatively, rather than through negotiations. In February, Sweeney unveiled his health insurance proposal that called on public employees to pay more for their health insurance premiums, with the amount paid by workers dependant on their salaries. The plan was a counterproposal to the one from Christie, who called on public workers to pay 30 percent of their insurance premiums, regardless of their salary.

Last week, Oliver called for a “sunset” clause that would initially impose higher premiums, but could later be negotiated by unions. CWA rallies, condemns pension/benefits deal