As reported by app.com on February 23, 2011, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who gained a national reputation fighting the state’s teachers and public employee unions, said that organized labor should have collective bargaining rights. One day after proposing a new state budget that requires public employees to pay more for pension and health benefits, Christie told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that he supports “responsible” collective bargaining, but quickly added, “We haven’t had that in New Jersey.”
Christie’s comments come as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker attempts to limit collective bargaining to help balance the state’s budget. Walker’s proposals have upended Statehouse operations there. A solidarity protest is planned outside the New Jersey Statehouse on February 25, 2011.
Christie, a Republican who has accused his Democratic predecessor of being too lenient with state workers, said he does not think the bargaining process should be polite. “It should be an adversarial situation,” he said. “Somebody should be representing the taxpayers.”
Former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat, negotiated state worker givebacks including an 18-month wage freeze and furlough days. Union workers’ contracts expire in June and leaders of the state’s largest union, the Communication Workers of America, say Christie has yet to meet with them. Even if Christie favored ending collective bargaining, he would not get support from the Democratic majority in the Legislature, especially not in 2011, when all 120 legislative seats are up for re-election.
Labor leaders also were vocal in opposing Christie’s efforts to privatize toll collections on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. Christie’s second budget assumes millions in savings from privatizing certain, unspecified services and agencies. A task force told the governor in July that New Jersey could save $200 million a year by privatizing toll collections, prison food and medical services and other government services.
There are about 450 full-time and 175 part-time toll collectors on the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. Longtime toll collectors earn an average of $65,000 a year. Toll collectors protested on February 23, 2011 outside the Turnpike Authority offices in Woodbridge. Union leaders say the administration is moving forward with its plan even after the union offered $16 million in wage and benefits concessions. A private contract could be awarded as early as April.
Prior efforts to privatize government functions have not always gone well in New Jersey. Long lines, frustrated customers and wasted millions resulted in a previous attempt to privatize motor vehicle inspection facilities.