As reported by, New Jersey’s battle over benefits could hit a fever pitch today. Thousands of public workers are expected to stage what leaders vow will be their biggest Statehouse protest yet over a controversial bill to force them to pay more for health insurance and pensions. The bill is up for final passage in the Assembly, which would send it to Governor Chris Christie, who is expected to sign it swiftly.

Leading up to today’s battle, a state workers union chapter filed a federal suit against the state saying its contract was broken because pension payments were skipped. Christie pitched the plan where he was booed by some teachers. At a town hall in Fair Lawn, Christie said the measure, a focal point of his agenda, is needed to restore the state’s fiscal balance and ensure the solvency of the pension fund. “We have support with both political parties to do this,” he said. “It isn’t like other states.”

With the passage in the Assembly seeming almost inevitable, one union began what could be the first of several court battles. Local 1033 of the Communications Workers of America filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the state failed to meet its contractual obligations when it did not contribute to the pension system. Rae Roeder, president of the local 1033, the only CWA chapter that has all its members in the same pension fund, said the members of the union voted to move forward with the lawsuit. The union is also alleging the legislation, which would eliminate cost of living adjustments for retirees, violates federal contract law. The suit asks that full payments be made into the pension fund.

The unions yesterday continued their war of words with Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Hetty Rosenstein, state director for the CWA, contested comments Sweeney made earlier this week that negotiations over the bill fell apart when the union demanded that the content of the health plans be included in the legislation. Sweeney has said the unions were trying to subvert collective bargaining, a charge unions have made against he and Christie.

Rosenstein said the proposal sent to them by Sweeney included no details and was not in writing, putting them in a tough spot to sign on. “This is not anything that any union could accept or that we could do in any fairness to our members,” Rosenstein said. “Somehow we’re supposed to say ‘yes’ to that.”