- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 1, 2018

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday hailed a new labor contract with New Jersey’s largest state workers union and said the agreement is covered by his $37.4 billion budget proposal, but he failed to detail how much it would cost taxpayers.

New Jersey’s Communication Workers of America approved the four-year contract by more than 99 percent, according to the union. The contract reaches back to 2015 and expires in 2019. It puts an end to a yearslong fight between the union and former Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who failed to reach an agreement when the contract expired in 2015.

“We held our ground, and are heartened that the terrible Christie chapter of New Jersey history is now over,” New Jersey CWA director Hetty Rosenstein said in a statement.

The agreement, reached on April 4 but ratified on Tuesday, contains two 2 percent wage hikes and allows workers to recoup step increases that Christie discontinued.

It also would spare workers retroactive increases in health insurance premiums. Those costs went up as part of Christie’s 2011 landmark pension overhaul.



Murphy, who has been silent on the agreement until now, praised the contract.

“After three long years, this contract represents a reasonable and responsible agreement between the State of New Jersey and our CWA workers,” Murphy said in a statement.

Republicans criticized the agreement and estimated that the actual cost of increases could balloon to as high as 20 percent, based on employees’ step increases, though, those payments were called for under the previous contract.

“This wasn’t as much a contract negotiation as it was a pure giveaway,” Republican state Sen. Anthony Bucco said.

Murphy took office with help from organized labor, including the CWA. The union contributed $275,000 to a political action committee that spent money on ads attacking his Republican rival, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. It also gave nearly $500,000 to county Democratic Party organizations that traditionally help get out the vote.

The previous contract expired under Christie, who famously clashed with organized labor and pushed public workers for givebacks as a way to shore up the state’s underfunded pension system.

Murphy promised a new, friendlier posture toward unions and has called for an end to “bluster” and name calling.

His $37.4 billion fiscal year 2019 budget calls for setting aside more than $63 million for salary increases for state workers, most of whom are represented by unions. It is unclear how much of that is intended the cover the new agreement.

Murphy’s spending proposal for salary increases is actually less than what Christie sought for the current fiscal year budget, which called for more than $85 million for salary increases. Murphy’s statement says the current fiscal year budget also accounts for the costs.

Negotiations on a new contract are set to start this month, since the deal expires in the middle of next year.

The union-covered workers perform a variety of services for the state, including working at executive departments that oversee state programs.

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