Two days after a contentious Senate committee hearing that ended with the approval of landmark pension and health benefit reform, Democrats in both houses of the Legislature and union leaders met to continue talks over a deal to soften the blow for public employees.
According to sources, Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski met with Hetty Rosenstein of the Communication Workers of America and representatives of the American Federation of Teachers and the New Jersey Education Association to resurrect talks that had stalled earlier in the week that would place a cap on the amount of salary public employees would pay for health care.
Sources say the unions were becoming nearly desperate for a deal once it was clear both houses had the votes to pass the legislation and intended to move forward.
The deal would have capped the salary contribution at 3 percent for the cheapest of the health care plans. Legislative and union leadership had reportedly been within striking distance of an agreement Wednesday before the talks fell apart. State Sen. President Steve Sweeney said the contribution cap was put aside once the unions demanded that the low-cost plan be set by statute as opposed to by a helath care committee with management and labor represented.
That deal would also have removed a so-called sunset provision from the legislation and included a non-imposition clause that would preclude the governor from imposing his last best contract offer on public workers. The new proposal would have partially restored cost of living increases on pension payments.
Union leadership reportedly rejected that deal Wednesday and the Senate Budget Committee moved forward with the initial proposal Thursday.
According to Weinberg, the weekend talks were fruitful, but she and Wisniewski ran out of time before any agreement was made.
“This was nothing that was planned,” Weinberg said. “I have a good relationship with many of the union people and they were willing to sit down and talk. We had to go back and get agreements from our leadership and we ran out of time.”
But one source familiar with the talks told PolitickerNJ the group was close to a deal before union leadership pulled back a second time.
The full Senate approved the measure today by a vote of 24 to 15. Weinberg voted against the measure.