Corzine, union deal avoids layoffs

June 3, 2009 6:42:49 PM PDT
New Jersey's largest state worker union and the Corzine administration have struck a tentative deal that freezes wages for 18 months and requires 10 furlough days but guarantees no layoffs through 2010. The proposed memorandum of agreement, obtained by The Associated Press, would modify the existing contract between the Communications Workers of America and the state, if members ratify it.

Facing a severe budget shortfall, Gov. Jon S. Corzine threatened to lay off as many at 7,000 state workers unless he achieved millions in concessions from labor. The tentative deal would achieve $309 million in savings if the other unions agree, according to a person familiar with the talks. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the administration.

The tentative deal defers the 3.5 percent pay increase union workers were due in July until Jan. 1, 2011. Workers also will be required to take 10 furlough days before July of next year, including the day after Thanksgiving and Lincoln's Birthday. They will not have to take a furlough day this month.

In exchange for the concessions, totaling 7.5 percent of employees' salaries, the administration has pledged not to lay off state workers through the end of next year. The state also will create a Paid Leave Bank, in which workers who take the unpaid furlough days will be credited with seven days off they can use any time after 2010.

The governor on Wednesday confirmed that a tentative agreement had been reached, but said details had yet to be worked out. He said other unions had yet to agree, even in principle.

"There is a tentative agreement with regard to a wage freeze and furloughs, but the details need to be ironed out," Corzine said. "I expect we will have an agreement. It will be an agreement on the terms that were negotiated at the collective bargaining table not just with CWA, but with all parties involved."

Bob Master, of the CWA's District 1, described the agreement as a "framework," and said it would "deliver significant savings to the state and provide job protections to our members."

The two sides have been in negotiations for weeks, but the talks intensified as the gubernatorial primary drew near.

Some union workers will be exempt.

Bill Lavin, president of the state Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, which represents municipal firefighters, said police and firefighter unions have gone to court to protect public services workers from being furloughed.

The CWA reportedly had planned to protest outside the West Orange arena where Corzine was accepting the Democrats' nomination for a second term Tuesday night, but canceled their plans, indicating that a deal was near.

That drew criticism from Corzine rival Christopher Christie, the GOP candidate for governor, who called the governor's victory party "a political rally at the taxpayers' expense."

And, Assembly Republican leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris Plains, said Corzine hurriedly struck a deal with the union to avoid the political embarrassment of having Vice President Joe Biden cancel his appearance with the governor rather than cross a union picket line.