As reported by, the union that represents some 35,000 state and local government workers is offering to make changes in New Jersey’s health insurance system that would, as one official promised, save “tens of millions of dollars.” The proposal by the Communication Workers of America came as union leaders and negotiators for Governor Chris Christie’s administration met for the first time.

Paul Alexander, president of the CWA Local 1038, said the package was drawn from reforms being instituted across the United States and from recommendations contained in a report from Harvard University. “It’s a very, very comprehensive plan,” Alexander said. “These are things being done in other areas, but for New Jersey, it may be unique. (Rising health costs) are not just a New Jersey problem, it’s a national problem.”

Alexander and CWA officials declined to detail the proposal. However, a letter sent to members and posted on a CWA website said the offer was an effort at “containing and sharing premium costs.”  The proposal also would expand the use of generic drugs and mail-order prescription services, the union letter said. The proposal would save the State about one-fifth of its premium costs the CWA claimed.

A Christie spokesman declined to comment. Christie, a Republican who frequently criticizes public sector unions, has said in recent weeks that he is looking forward to negotiating over contracts that are set to begin July 1. “It should be an adversarial situation,” Christie said on a televised interview last month. “Somebody should be representing the taxpayers.”

However, with the State facing rising health costs for current workers, a nearly $37 billion long term unfunded liability in the State portion of the pension system and another $56 billion for retiree health costs, Christie is pushing for system-wide changes through legislation. To this end, Christie has called for all state and local workers enrolled in the State’s health benefits plan to pay 30 percent of the premium.

A counter proposal by Democratic State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney also would require premium payments by employees up to 30 percent, but that would only be for employees making more than $100,000 a year and seven years after their current contract ends.   An employee paid $60,000, close to the state average, would pay 7 percent of the premium at first, rising to 19 percent seven years later. That final figure would work out to $3,610 a year for family coverage in 2017.

Unions, however, want those health coverage changes to be adopted only through negotiation and not through state law, as proposed by Christie and Sweeney. Several hundred retired and current government workers jammed the hallways of the Statehouse as unions tried to meet with lawmakers and urge them not to pass the health care changes. Unions are arguing that the health care proposals amount to an attack on collective bargaining.

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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.