TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie, who gained a national reputation fighting the state’s teachers and public employee unions, said Wednesday that organized labor should have collective bargaining rights.
A day after proposing a new state budget that requires public employees to pay more for pension and health benefits, Christie told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that he supports “responsible” collective bargaining, but quickly added, “We haven’t had that in New Jersey.”
Christie’s comments come as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker attempts to limit collective bargaining to help balance the state’s budget. Walker’s proposals have upended Statehouse operations there, and a solidarity protest is planned Friday outside the New Jersey Statehouse.
Christie, a Republican who has accused his Democratic predecessor of being too lenient with state workers, said he doesn’t think the bargaining process should be polite.
“It should be an adversarial situation,” he said. “Somebody should be representing the taxpayers.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine negotiated state worker givebacks including an 18-month wage freeze and furlough days. Union workers’ contracts expire in June; leaders of the state’s largest union, the Communications Workers of America, say Christie has yet to meet with them.
Even if Christie favored ending collective bargaining, he wouldn’t get support from the Democratic majority in the Legislature, especially not in 2011, when all 120 legislative seats are up for re-election.
Labor leaders also were vocal Wednesday in opposing Christie’s efforts to privatize toll collections on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.
Christie’s second budget assumes millions in savings from privatizing certain, unspecified services and agencies.
The governor’s office and treasurer’s office didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail request Wednesday for details on the administration’s privatization plans.
A task force told the governor in July that New Jersey could save $200 million a year by privatizing toll collections, prison food and medical services and other government services.
About 850 full-time and part-time toll collectors work on the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, according to state and union officials. Longtime toll collectors earn an average of $65,000 a year.
Toll collectors protested Wednesday outside the Turnpike Authority offices in Woodbridge. Union leaders say the administration is moving forward with its plan even after the union offered $16 million in wage and benefits concessions. A private contract could be awarded as early as April.
Prior efforts to privatize government functions have not always gone well in New Jersey. Long lines, frustrated customers and wasted millions resulted in a previous attempt to privatize motor vehicle inspection facilities.
Christie tried to break the union’s political arm on his first day in office last year by signing an executive order banning state worker unions from making political donations over $300 per campaign. An appeals court blocked the order from taking effect.
Christie blamed public employee unions for police layoffs in Camden and Newark because they wouldn’t accept wage concessions.
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