Eight years of tensions between Gov. Chris Christie and public-worker unions is culminating with one final court fight, this time over changes to the Office of Information Technology.

Christie announced changes to OIT on June 1 in the interest of improving cybersecurity that also included decentralization of some 180 employees from the Treasury Department office to various departments across state government.

There have been no major hiccups, though Communications Workers of America senior staff representative Dudley Burdge says some workers were idled for a week or longer when the changes took effect July 22.

But the CWA has sued to reverse the change, in part because it was done without approval from the Legislature. Court briefs have been exchanged, with the union’s reply submitted Wednesday, and oral arguments are scheduled for Sept. 18.

Burdge said it also doesn’t make sense to decentralize application development, at a time when other states are centralizing it.

“We think it’s less efficient,” Burdge said. “When the application development is part of OIT, they can access other services, databases, data warehouse facilities. There’s a whole string of things that are easily accessible.”

Christie said at a recent news conference that the change improves efficiency by putting application developers closer to the departments that need them.

“Right now everybody’s doing different things. They’re all siloed. It makes no sense. It’s not cost-effective and it’s not good in terms of communicating between the departments,” Christie said.

“It’s about efficiency of government,” he said. “But let me tell you, the CWA is always against efficiency in government. Always against efficiency in government, because if government is most inefficient, that’s when the most jobs exist. And that’s what they’re for.”

Christie said further that the CWA took him to court because its members “don’t want to work harder.” Some were shifted to departments with a 40-hour work week, up from 35 hours.

“They don’t want to work 40 hours to help improve the cybersecurity of the state of New Jersey,” he said. “I think people should have to work 40 hours.”

Burdge said around 50 of the 180 people who were transferred got longer work weeks, and around half of those opposed the change, which was not negotiated.

“Two reasons: One, because they actually make less per hour, but the bigger reason for a lot of people was just in terms of work/life balance,” Burdge said. “Being responsible for either a sick parent or a child. A lot of these people commute pretty far. That is as aspect.”

Burdge said the Christie administration refused to bargain about it and that the union filed a complaint about an unfair labor practice.

Burdge says a more centralized OIT is better able to understand the capabilities of the state’s technology in ways that people at the individual departments cannot. He said OIT a decade ago and longer tried to flag looming failures of new computer systems at the DMV, Labor Department and Human Services.

“I mean, in all these cases, there were tens of millions of dollars spent with almost nothing to show in terms of the product,” Burdge said.

The union says a 2007 state law requires the information-technology functions to be run from a hub “in but not of” the Treasury Department and that Christie can’t alter it, just as he was prevented from dissolving the state Council on Affordable Housing.

The Assembly voted 43-24 to oppose the OIT changes on July 31, but the resolution has no legal authority beyond expressing an opinion. The Senate hasn’t yet voted on a similar resolution.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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