- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Negotiators for New Jersey Transit and rail workers met again on Monday to try and avert a strike this weekend, as Gov. Chris Christie said the ongoing dispute won’t interfere with his plans to take a vacation for his 30th wedding anniversary.

Christie said he is monitoring the negotiations, which come after two separate emergency federal panels made recommendations over the last several months that failed to bring the parties to an agreement.

More than 4,000 workers have authorized a strike for 12:01 a.m. Sunday in what would create monumental gridlock in the already congested New York-New Jersey region and affect roughly 100,000 rail riders.

Christie dismissed the notion that it might not look favorable if he was on vacation during the run-up to a possible strike.

“I’m worried about the results; I’m not worried about the optics,” he said at a news conference at a Newark elementary school where he touted his plans to expand charter schools in New Jersey.

“I haven’t been to one negotiating session yet and, if I can avoid it I don’t intend to,” he said. “It’s not the job of the governor to negotiate this personally. It’s the job of the governor to set down the parameters for the negotiation which are executed by the professionals who the state has hired.”

The Republican said he would take a direct role if he was told that would benefit the negotiations, but that so far that hasn’t happened.

Last week he said he would take some time off for his 30th wedding anniversary, which is Tuesday, and return by the end of the week.

“My wife has made a great deal of sacrifices over the course of the last year or two with my absences,” he said. “So I’m going to make sure when my anniversary comes tomorrow, I’m with her.”

Negotiators met last week in Washington before the National Mediation Board. They also met over the weekend, Christie said Monday, and in Newark on Monday. A union official who participated in Friday’s talks said progress was made and the meeting was productive.

NJ Transit officials said in a statement that they made “meaningful movement towards the unions’ position” on Monday but that no significant progress was made on financial issues and “absolutely no movement” on health benefits.

Contract talks will resume on Tuesday, they said.

NJ Transit hasn’t had a strike or lockout since 1983. It has said the emergency boards’ recommendations for wage increases and health care payments by employees will force it to raise fares, something it did as recently as a year ago. The union disputes that assessment.

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