As reported by, more union protests are planned at the New Jersey Statehouse for Monday as the debate over public employee benefits rages on. A bill requiring sharply higher pension and health care contributions from 500,000 public employees will be voted on in the Senate on Monday, the same day the contentious bill gets its first public hearing in the Assembly.

“This is the defining moment for the labor movement in our generation,” AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech worte in an email to enlist support for Monday’s rally, the latest of several recent Capitol protests. “Only through your presence in Trenton on Monday will we make the difference.” Wowkanech was among 25 union members who were arrested after disrupting a Senate hearing on the bill last Thursday. They were issued disorderly persons summonses and released.

Democrats who lead the Senate have aligned with Republican Governor Chris Christie and GOP legislative leaders to support a bill that charges employees more to help shore up the underfunded retirement systems. A new tiered system will require teachers, police and firefighters and other public workers to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums based on income. Pension contributions will also rise by 1 percent immediately, and by an additional percent or more after a seven-year phase in. Public sector unions are vehemently opposed, in part because the bill limits collective bargaining over health care. Many Democrats agree.   

A provision to allow collective bargaining over health care to resume after four years did little to quell objections. A call to split the bill into two, one for pensions, which has wide support, and one for health care, has so far been refused by Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Christie also has said he would not support separate measures. The employee benefits bill has enough votes to pass in both the Senate and the Assembly as is, even though a majority of Democrats in both houses do not support it.

A fight also looms Monday about a provision deep inside the bill to limit public workers’ access to out-of-state medical care. The proposal restricts use of out-of-state doctors and hospitals unless similar care is not available in New Jersey. There are some exceptions, like emergency care, and employees would have to be offered a plan allowed unrestricted access to out-of-state care. That option would cost more.

Opponents of the provision say it’s imperative that all workers and their families have access to the same level of medical benefits. Proponents of the measure say the state’s doctors and hospitals are as good as any and the state should encourage their use.

The state teachers union says Sweeney’s friend and mentor, southern New Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, would benefit from the provision. Norcross, who heads Cooper Health System and Cooper University Hospital, denied the allegation.

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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.