HILLSBOROUGH, N.J. (AP) — Governor Chris Christie says he’s ready to start negotiating with state worker unions, whose contract with the state is up in June.

As a debate rages in Wisconsin and other states around the nation over whether GOP governors are trying to break unions by getting rid of collective bargaining, Christie told a crowd at a town hall meeting on Wednesday that New Jersey and Wisconsin are very different.

Christie says he has never suggested that collective bargaining rights be taken away.

Just the opposite, he says.

“In fact, I love collective bargaining,” Christie told the crowd packed into a room in the municipal building. “I’ve said let’s get rid of civil service and let everything be collectively bargained, as long as collective bargaining is fair, tough, adversarial and there’s someone in that room representing you.”

After accusing former Gov. Jon Corzine of being too cozy with the unions, Christie said there would be a different tone this year.

Let me at them. Get me out of the cage and let me go,” Christie said with enthusiasm.

Christie also said he wants to roll back a 9 percent pension increase granted a decade ago by former Republican Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, who was in the audience at the town hall Wednesday.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak says the administration has reached out to all the major unions to set up an initial meeting.

Communications Workers of America spokesman Bob Master says he takes Christie’s “love” of collective bargaining with a grain of salt.

“You can’t love collective bargaining and want to unilaterally ram health care changes through the legislature in two weeks’ time,” Master said. “Those are not consistent.”

Master says the administration offered to meet CWA on March 11.

The union has criticized the Republican governor and State

Senate President Stephen Sweeny for proposing ways to significantly increase the amount public employees pay for health care.

Christie wants benefits changes that make the health insurance system more like the private sector or the federal government, with employees paying about one-third of the costs of whatever benefits plan they choose.

Sweeney’s plan calls for employees to contribute between 12 and 30 percent, depending on income, over several years.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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