As reported by, with contracts for 49,000 state workers due to expire this June, Governor Chris Christie has publicly proclaimed he wants no pay raises and expects state workers to fork over much more for health and pension benefits. Union leaders say they have had no meetings with the governor’s office and worry this does not bode well for getting a deal before the current contracts are up.

At stake in this year’s talks are two of Christie’s signature issues: health and pension reform for state employees. Christie has declared there will be no pay increases for state workers, recently making the commitment in an interview with Fox News. He also has made clear his expectations for cuts in employee benefits: increase pension contributions for all employees to 8.5 percent of salary, require state workers to pay 30 percent of their health care premiums, raise the retirement age, and eliminate cost of living adjustments for pension recipients.

David Cohen, head of employee relations, will negotiate for the governor’s office, Christie said. “If and when he needs me to come in from the bullpen to help, I’m prepared to do it,” Christie said. Union leaders say they were told no meetings would be scheduled until after the governor’s budget presentation on February 22. In past contract negotiations, discussions have begun the fall before.

The governor’s office has gotten tough in negotiations with toll collectors who officially bargain with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. The talks began in anticipation of a move by Christie’s office to privatize the operations and eliminate publicly funded collectors. Franceline Ehret, head of the toll collectors union, said the talks have been unlike any in the 10 years she had headed the group. She said in the past, the Turnpike Authority was empowered to make decisions about contracts, but this year all decisions are being routed through Christie’s office. She said the administration wants $12 million to $14 million in concessions, not including health and pension benefits changes.   

If the administration and the state workers unions cannot reach an agreement in June, the employees are barred from striking, but could use tactics to slow work productivity. The Governor, as employer, could initiate punishment if rules are not followed. Christie could opt to keep benefits out of the collective bargaining process and instead change the health benefits and pensions through legislation. That’s an option he said he would consider, but stressed his administration will bargain in good faith.

As one can expect, the upcoming contract negotiations with the Christie administration will have an enormous impact on all New Jersey public employees, to include public safety officers, and their successor collective bargaining agreements. Please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain updates regarding the negotiations as they become available.

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Photo of Donald C. Barbati Donald C. Barbati

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues…

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues litigated before the courts and administrative tribunals throughout the State of New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Barbati also routinely represents individuals in various types of public pension appeals, real estate transactions, and general litigation matters. He is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog, a free legal publication designed to keep New Jersey public safety officers up-to-date and informed about legal issues pertinent to their profession. During his years of practice, Mr. Barbati has established a reputation for achieving favorable results for his clients in a cost-efficient manner.

Mr. Barbati has also handled numerous novel legal issues while representing New Jersey Public Safety Officers. Most notably, he served as lead counsel for the Appellants in the published case In re Rodriguez, 423 N.J. Super. 440 (App. Div. 2011). In that case, Mr. Barbati successfully argued on behalf of the Appellants, thereby overturning the Attorney General’s denial of counsel to two prison guards in a civil rights suit arising from an inmate assault. In the process, the Court clarified the standard to be utilized by the Attorney General in assessing whether a public employee is entitled to legal representation and mandated that reliance must be placed on up-to-date information.

Prior to becoming a practicing attorney, Mr. Barbati served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Linda R. Feinberg, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer Vicinage. During his clerkship Mr. Barbati handled numerous complex and novel substantive and procedural issues arising from complaints in lieu of prerogative writs, orders to show cause, and motion practice. These include appeals from decisions by planning and zoning boards and local government bodies, bidding challenges under the Local Public Contract Law, Open Public Records Act requests, the taking of private property under the eminent domain statute, and election law disputes. In addition, Mr. Barbati, as a certified mediator, mediated many small claims disputes in the Special Civil Part.

Mr. Barbati received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Upon graduating, Mr. Barbati attended Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2007, he received his juris doctorate, magna cum laude, graduating in the top five percent of his class. During law school, Mr. Barbati interned for the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, assisting on various constitutional, employment, and Third Circuit Court of Appeals litigation, including numerous civil rights, social security, and immigration cases.