As reported by, despite slim Democratic support, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney is prepared to move forward with a plan to overhaul public employee pensions and health benefits before the end of next month. Sweeney has lined up a small group of Democratic senators who said they would be willing to join with Republicans to help ensure there are enough votes to enact sweeping changes to public employee benefits.

The move signals that ongoing negotiations between Sweeney and Gov. Chris Christie over the shape of the changes are progressing. The sources, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the negotiations, said lawmakers have not been told of specific details, but Sweeney assured Democrats the plan would require workers to contribute more to health benefits and would take their salaries into account.

Sweeney spokesman Chris Donnelly declined to comment on what steps Sweeny has taken or will take to enact the changes, but expressed confidence a bill would pass the Senate. “Reform is coming and the Senate president will have more than enough votes to get it done,” Donnelly said.

The momentum is likely to anger public employee unions and even some Democrats, who argue that employee medical benefits should be decided at the bargaining table, not through legislation. Hetty Rosenstein, regional director for the state’s largest public employee union, called a move to vote on changes to medical benefits “disgusting.” “For Democrats to support a bill that eliminates collective bargaining around health care…that’s hugely problematic for Democrats and wrong,” Rosenstein said. “We expect the Democratic Party to stand up for collective bargaining.”

Sweeney and Christie have found common ground on changes to public employee medical benefits, but less on the issue of pensions. Sweeney introduced a bill that would increase employee medical benefit contributions over seven years and set a sliding scale of 12 to 30 percent of premiums, based on salary. Christie wants to phase increases over three years and have all employees pay 30 percent of their premiums. He also wants to increase the eligibility requirements for post-employment health care.

Both said pension reform is necessary to restore fiscal health to a pension system that was underfunded by $54 billion as of the latest actuarial account.

Christie wants to increase the retirement age to 65 for many employees, require all public employees to contribute 8.5 percent of their salaries into the pension system, and eliminate cost-of-living increases for all current and future retirees. Sweeney has also proposed a series of pension revisions that include creating a board that would have management over the system’s investments and determine employee contribution rates based upon an annual actuarial analysis.

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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.