As reported by, leaders of New Jersey’s public workers unions said they will launch a full court press against a bill sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney that would force public employees to pay more for their health care benefits. The unions have called the bill an attempt to throw out collective bargaining rights.

Hetty Rosenstein, state director for the Communication Workers of America, said her union would picket, extract pledges from lawmakers to oppose it and hold “lobby days” against the bill over the next several weeks. “It becomes illegal to negotiate anything different than what’s in that bill,” she said. “It preempts all collective bargaining.”

Bill Lavin, president of the state Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, said police and firefighters will protest it at a Statehouse rally and press all 120 lawmakers. “It’s totally unacceptable. I think if that were to pass, it will guarantee that the Democrats will lose the majority,” he said. “We’re shocked that Steve Sweeney, who calls himself a Democrat, would act in this manner…He’s rolled over for the governor in every instance.”

The pushback comes as the legislation has gained bipartisan support in the state Senate, with Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) signing on as a prime sponsor. Public employees pay 1.5 percent of their salaries towards their health benefits. Under Sweeney’s plan and a proposal by Governor Chris Christie, workers would pay a portion of their premiums instead and would have more plans to choose from.

Under Christie’s plan, public workers would pay 30 percent of their premiums within three years. Under Sweeney’s, they would pay a sliding scale based on income, with the highest earners eventually paying 30 percent. Christie’s plan would require current retirees to pay part of their premiums.

Beck said she still has reservations about parts of the bill. She agreed with Sweeney that employees should pay rates based on their income, but agreed with Christie that current retirees should pay part of their premiums. Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said the governor’s office was not upset that Beck signed onto the Democratic proposal.