As reported by trentonian.com, New Jersey’s state government unions are up against more than a combative Governor Chris Christie going into contract negotiations. They are up against numbers regarding their salary, which were recently released and could complicate their efforts to rally public opinion to their side.
More than 17,000 union represented state employees have salaries of $75,000 or higher. They account for a record 75 percent of total employees in this pay range, including management and patronage employees. Union represented employees now hold 43 percent of jobs paying $100,000 or more, also a record proportion. These Civil Service figures are as of January 1, 2010.
The two biggest of a dozen state employee unions are the Communications Workers of America, representing about 37,000 employees, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (“AFSCME”), bargaining for about 9,900 state workers. Governor Christie has declared himself ready, even eager, to do some hard-nosed negotiations. He served notice at a recent town meeting that unions should not expect him to join them in “holding hands” around the bargaining table and singing “Kumbaya.”
Union representatives have no such expectations. “We’re aware of the [fiscal] situation and public mood,” said one AFSCME member, not authorized to speak for the union and commenting anonymously. “We’re not looking for a sweetheart contract or expecting one. We’re looking for a fair contract, one that doesn’t shift all the burden onto us.”
CWA says it has made concessions previously, contrary to the impression given by the blustery Christie. These concessions included a deferral of a scheduled raise in 2009, the acceptance of a pay cut in the form of uncompensated furlough days, and an agreement to take on a bigger employee share of pension and medical-coverage costs.
New Jersey’s contract talks open at a time when states face big annual budget shortfalls and massive unfunded long-term liabilities in promised pension and health benefits. New Jersey liabilities by one official calculation surpass $120 billion, four times the annual state budget. Other calculations set the sum even higher.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, has positioned himself in the center of America’s public sector labor battle zone. He’s proposing to sharply curtail bargaining parameters, including taking benefits off the table. He also proposed to stop payroll deductions for union dues, forcing the unions to collect their own dues, a potentially crippling blow to them financially. Christie has stopped short of going that far. But, he has drawn the national limelight, alongside Walker, with his union-taunting remarks and stated willingness to go to the mat.