As reported by, the state’s largest public employee union unveiled its plan for workers to contribute more for their medical coverage in hopes of convincing lawmakers and the public that real savings can be achieved at the bargaining table. 

The Communications Workers of America, which represents about 40,000 state workers, detailed a plan union leaders say would increase employees’ share of insurance premiums to about 14 percent and save taxpayers more than $200 million by 2013. The plan calls for increased monthly contributions and higher co-pays for doctor’s visits and prescription drugs.

Union leaders say they were forced to take the negotiations public after Governor Chris Christie made it clear a week ago that he was not interested in negotiating medical benefits. Those details should be handled through legislation, he said. “Governor Christie professes to love collective bargaining, but we have yet to see it,” said Bob Master, CWA political director. “What’s going on in New Jersey is no different than what’s going on in Wisconsin and Ohio.”

Momentum is building to require all public workers to contribute significantly more for medical benefits. Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney say broad-based legislation is the only way to bring parity between public and private workers and save the state millions. “We’re changing New Jersey, and the CWA has to be part of it,” Christie said at an appearance in Newark. “I know they don’t like the fact that someone will go to the Legislature and fight for the taxpayers rather than fleece the taxpayers, which they’ve been doing over history. Sorry, there’s a new game in town and they’re going to have to get used to it.”

Hetty Rosenstein, state director of CWA, said state workers understand they need to contribute more, but believe the terms should be negotiated, as they have been for decades. While the CWA is the largest state employee union, it represents only a fraction of the 510,000 public workers in the state, and Christie wants the health benefits law to cover all public workers. Christie is hoping to save more than $300 million in the proposed budget with the reform package. Rosenstein said she is trying to reach out to other public employee unions in hopes of having a “mass negotiation” that would help achieve the savings Christie is seeking while preserving the right to collectively bargain medical benefits.  

Under the CWA plan, workers would continue to pay 1.5 percent of their salaries toward medical costs but would also kick in an additional 5 percent of their premiums by 2013. The hybrid model is designed to take into account a worker’s salary. By the end of the contract, average workers would pay about 13.5 percent of their medical premium costs, about $210 a month for family coverage. Rosenstein said with co-pays and other changes, workers would pay about 22 percent of their premiums. Christie wants all public employees to pay 30 percent of their premiums, about $475 a month for family coverage. Sweeney wants workers to pay 12 to 30 percent of premiums, based on salary.