Unions, Christie clashing again over pensions
LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie's (R) summertime talks with residents in beach communities starting Tuesday come with a theme that has some of his biggest critics riled up anew.
The possible 2016 Republican presidential contender is calling his talks "No Pain, No Gain," and he's sounding alarms — as he has for much of the year — that the state's promised pension and health benefits for public sector workers are becoming unaffordable. He offers the bankruptcy of Detroit as a warning sign for his state.
Unions and political advocates for those workers already are ramping up their protests even before Christie offers up his proposed solution — something he's expected to do later in the summer.
"There have always been major fights with this governor around the issue of pension and benefits," said Hetty Rosenstein, the New Jersey director for Communications Workers of New Jersey, the state's largest union of state government employees. "He is launching a new attack, and so I'm sure there will be an equally tense response."
Eddie Donnelly, president of the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, said his union is launching a new website and plans to be at all of Christie's summer town hall meetings, starting with the one scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Long Beach Township.
"We're going to take it to social media, we're going to take it to television, we're going to take it to the newspaper. We're going to take it to anybody that will listen," he said.
Without a specific pension proposal to discuss yet, Christie's critics are targeting the governor's style and symbolism.
Donnelly and other union leaders said their message for Tuesday's protest is about Christie's choice of location for the event. They say it's an affront to them that he is hosting a gathering near a playground that teachers, police and firefighters volunteered to build in memory of a teacher who died in the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
Last week, Christie's office released a movie trailer-style video promoting his talks and casting himself as a hero fighting rising government costs.
The New Jersey Working Families Alliance, a coalition of labor unions, environmental groups and other left-leaning organizations, responded with a spoof of that video lambasting Christie for taking on pensions and benefits for workers while his administration extends corporate tax credits as incentives for companies.
The unions are taking one concrete step on pensions, though. They plan to file legal papers in coming months to try to force the governor to make a full payment to their pension funds in this fiscal year. Christie cut the payments for both fiscal 2014 and 2015 after the state's revenue came in lower than expected in April.
In June, a judge ruled that the state is contractually bound to make payments Christie agreed to during rounds of pension and benefit overhauls in 2010 and 2011, but she said that the budget crunch in fiscal 2014 left him with no option but to pay less to the funds.
The unions point out that their members have been paying a greater share of their benefit costs as part of the deals earlier this decade.
That, they say, makes them distrustful of any new proposal Christie makes calling for sacrifice for workers.
"He passed and signed his own law to make a pension payment and when he doesn't make the payment, he comes out with a movie trailer mocking us," said Patrick Colligan, the president of the State Policeman's Benevolent Association. "Why are we even going to entertain anything if he hasn't held up his side of the bargain from 2011?"
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)