As reported by nj.com, representatives for Governor Chris Christie have told the state’s largest union that the administration’s plan to sharply increase health care costs for public employees was not negotiable, union leaders said.
The Governor’s issue first took the issue of health care costs off the table when negotiations over a new contract got underway. However, union officials said they were determined to have a voice in changes to their benefits. “It represents a pretty fundamental attack on a long-established right to bargain over health care which goes back as long as there has been unions in New Jersey,” said Bob Masters, political director for the Communications Workers of America, which represents that state’s public employees. “We are going to insist that our legal right to bargain over health care can be honored by this governor as it has been by every governor.”
Instead, a spokesman for Christie said the governor planned to stick to his plan to have state employees to pay 30 percent of their health care premiums by requiring it through having the legislature enact a law. Union members currently pay 1.5 percent of their salary for health care coverage. “We and the Senate president are pursuing that area in the same way through legislation,” the spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said.
Christie contends that he does not have to negotiate over increasing health care costs because in the past, the unions, at least in some instances, appealed directly to the Legislature. The last time employees saw an increase in their contributions was in 2007, when Governor Jon Corzine reached an agreement with the union requiring members to pay 1.5 percent of their salary for benefits.
Masters said the governor’s office could not provide an example of the union skipping collective bargaining. A spokesman for the Assembly Majority, Tom Hester said it was the responsibility of Christie’s office to engage in collective bargaining with the union. “This governor spends a lot of time bragging about his ability to shake up government,” Hester said, “so it’s time to him to back his talk and prove his worth at the bargaining table, where health insurance matters have traditionally been decided.”