Union releases its plan, but Christie won't look at it

This post has been corrected from its original version.

For the first time, the largest state employee union is going to the press with a health care proposal for its new contract.

For the first time, a governor is refusing to even talk about health care proposals at the bargaining table for a contract, which expires in June.

And meanwhile, local governments throughout the state are calling off bargaining sessions while they wait to see how the governor alters benefits for workers he employs.

Trenton is getting its first glimpse of union negotiations under Gov. Christie, and both the governor and the unions say it is unlike anything anyone has ever seen before.

The largest state union, the Communications Workers of America, brought a proposal to Christie at its first negotiating session last Friday that it said would raise the average percentage of the health care premium paid by a worker from 8.5 percent to as much as 22 percent, including increased costs for doctor visits and prescriptions. There would be total savings of $240 million in the final year of the four-year contract.

Christie won’t even consider the proposal, he said. Christie wants the Legislature to pass a law that would require all public workers in New Jersey, incuding teachers and police officers, to pay 30 percent of the health care premiums.

“The long-established right for public workers to bargain over health care would be completely eliminated,” said Robert Master, a CWA spokesman.

Christie has a powerful ally, though, in State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Camden), a leader of the private ironworkers’ union. Sweeney has sponsored a bill that would have the highest-earning workers paying 30 percent toward their premiums.

The CWA said it has had a legal right since 1968 to negotiate health care, and its proposal includes other measures like wellness plans that incentivize quitting smoking. Such measures could never be included in a health care plan, however, if collective bargaining is taken out of the equation, the union said.

“Collective bargaining brings about creative solutions,” said Hetty Rosenstein, CWA New Jersey director.

Christie has said he “loves” collective bargaining, which differentiates him from Republican governors in the midwest, particularly Wisconsin, who have worked to cut union power.

Before the CWA held a press conference today to release its health proposal, Christie was at a school in Newark and took a question on collective bargaining.

“I have active contract negotiations going on, but they should really stop the whining,” Christie said of the CWA.

“They’re uncomfortable, and when they get uncomfortable they start whining and moaning and complaining. You wont hear any whining and complaining from the governors office.”

There'll be more in tomorrow's Inquirer. I also covered this in today's paper -- for that, click here.