As reported by, a proposal to move some state and local employees to a new 401(k)-like pension system is gaining support because it has the potential to save billions of dollars. However, long before anything is adopted, it is likely to draw strenuous pushback from the public workers’ labor unions. The recommendation is to move new hires and employees with less than five (5) years of service out of the defined-benefit pension system and into a proposed defined-contribution retirement system. It is one of the many outcomes of a Legislature-led working group of fiscal policy experts gathered by Senate President Steve Sweeney last summer. Out of all its proposals, the panel singled out this move as the one to save the most dollars.

Such a move would substantially change the way public workers earn pension benefits. The last major effort was launched in 2011 and drew mass protests from public employees. Still, Sweeney, who is now the leading proponent of the panel’s findings, is trying to tap into public frustration with high taxes to get the new proposal to the finish line.

In all, the pension system covers the retirements of nearly 800,000 current and retired public employees in New Jersey.  While some of the individual funds for different worker groups are in better shape than others, the system itself has an unfunded liability estimated at $115 billion, making it one of the worst-funded state retirement plans in the country. While some benefits changes were enacted in 2011 after Sweeney worked with then-Republican Governor Chris Christie to adopt bipartisan reforms, that effort was not as effective as originally designed because Christie did not follow an aggressive schedule of state pension payments.

But, just as unions loudly opposed Christie when he sought to adopt benefit changes in 2015, the proposals are already getting pushback from labor. For example, the New Jersey Education Association, the State’s largest teachers’ union, has labeled the panel’s findings, which include plans to reduce the quality of public workers’ healthcare coverage to save more taxpayer money, “unfair, unreasonable and unconscionable.” Many have argued, and rightfully so, that public workers have good reason to be upset regarding additional proposals to cut their pension and health benefits. To this end, the main source of the pension-funding problem is the State’s long history under governors of both parties of not making a full, actuarially-required pension contribution even as the workers themselves have been making legally-mandated employee contributions the whole time.

Please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain updates regarding the aforementioned proposals. As you can expect, if such proposals were ultimately passed, this could have a drastic impact upon all public employees, most notably public safety officers.


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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.