Archive for the ‘CWA’ Category

In the famous book of the same title, we learn about the fictional characters in a Nigerian village. For centuries their way of life was preserved…until the arrival of Missionaries. Slowly but surely, The Missionaries began making inroads and wound up winning over converts to their new, and in many ways more appealing existence.

They set up a Church with a new form of government that was hardly tolerant of the traditions it was supplanting. And of course we all know what happens next. As some villagers began to embrace the new doctrine the rituals and customs of the tribe began to crumble. The old way of life – however imperfect – was eventually lost. Forever.

I have been very reluctant to write about the situation at NJN for a lot of reasons including that there are many strongly opinionated factions with different views about what is best for the Network. So rather than publicly cast my lot with any of those, I will offer an insider’s view about what needs to be preserved for whatever direction the decision makers ultimately decide to steer us.

Live coverage is essential. Are there ways to maybe do it more efficiently? Absolutely. That can be worked out. But it cannot be worked out if we move resources away from news. We can’t shed bodies in the transition and we cannot possibly put on the newscast for less money. We barely get it on the air now. There needs to be a live newscast with capability to cover legislative hearings and other major events live. New Jersey has a dearth of political coverage to begin with ( due to it’s odd geographic designation which situates it between two major media markets – NY and Philly ). The loss of NJN will only make that worse.

The Legislative hearings by the NJN Task Force have hit home this point. Next month the members will make their recommendations to the Governor. As I understand it, there is a hope that the report will be bi-partisan and unanimous. Some kind of conversion of NJN seems inevitable at this point. And if that transition is handled fairly and responsibly that may wind up being what is best. There are two pieces of legislation out there. One favored by CWA – the union representing NJN’s state workers which would convert NJN to a more autonomous authority. The ties to State Government would still exist, but the station would have more independence. The other bill introduced by Republicans ( and presumably favored by the Governor ) would create an independent entity that would sever ties from the state of New Jersey. There are good ideas in both bills. And much like the property tax cap bill was amended to reflect new negotiated terms, it occurs to me that a negotiation could produce a final bill in this case that all parties can live with.

In the meantime, while the starting points for that negotiation are currently being staked out…Lawmakers and others who care about the station must compile a mental list of what absolutely needs to stay in order to ensure that NJN remains well, NJN. That includes but is not limited to an extensive video library that has captured New Jersey history over the past 40 years. A broadcast outlet to air that video is also essential – meaning at least one channel dedicated to news and public affairs. And finally, coverage of New Jersey’s ongoing history needs to continue. If New Jersey doesn’t feel a need to preserve it’s very own documentarian going forward then things really do fall apart…and it will be lost. Forever.

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In the early 90’s classic “What About Bob?” Richard Dreyfuss ( this was before Kippendorf’s Tribe  ruined his career ) plays the straight man to Bill Murray’s fury-inducing bafoon. The movie is a series of situations in which Dreyfuss, playing the shrink, tries not to explode at Murray who keeps pushing the envelope. This includes Murray ( his patient ) arriving at Dreyfuss’ country home uninvited and unnannounced. We keep waiting for the explosion of anger, and every now and then it comes…although not always when we expect it.

What can I say about the handful of Democrats who are on the precipice of open revolt within the Democratic caucus. Governor Christie is running the table, and those who don’t want to go along with his game plan don’t have enough votes to override the South Jersey and the north Jersey Democratic coalitions. Chris Christie, George Norcross and Steve Audubato who works through Joe D are calling the shots. And according to a disgruntled few, they had better get all these reforms done soon because this united front cannot last forever.

After Steve Sweeney stood with Christie to announce a compromise on the property tax cap the Assembly Democrats held their own caucus Wednesday morning. A handful of people who feel Sheila Oliver should not go along with the compromise caused “quite a bit of unrest.” And it’s not one single issue – which only adds to the chaos. On the one hand, you have some women legislators who feel Oliver has not done enough to challenge Christie on the women’s health issue. I am told that when Valerie Vainieri Huttle complained about that and other issues in caucus Wednesday, Oliver said something along the lines of “while you were out shopping over July 4, I was here working.” Needless to say that did not go over well.

What’s more, Assemblyman Lou Greenwald ( who is south j, but seems to wanna buck the new world order a bit ) said he doesn’t think Democrats should keep reacting to what Christie says all the time. They should instead make the Governor respond to them. I’m told Greenwald, Pam Lampitt, John Wisniewski and others feel the Democrats need to bring their own agenda instead of trying to glom onto things like the cap by declaring it was their idea all along…then insisting they “got some major concessions” from the Governor.

Oliver said Wednesday that the Assembly would fix the mistakes of the 2.0 cap bill after it passes through subsequent legislation. John Burzichelli and John McKeon met with Kevin O’Dowd in the Governor’s office to find out what exactly they could change…but some felt it was a little bit like asking permission.

Moreover, there are some who feel the party needs to do more for their traditional allies – specifically the working class union guys. Those guys voted for Christie in the last election. And since then, Democrats have done nothing to try and woo them back. In fact, just the opposite has taken place. They have undermined labor’s agenda at every turn; when traditionally it was Dems who protected workers, it’s now that same party trying to undermine them with non-negotiated givebacks that do an end run around collective bargaining.

Hey look, times have changed. One could fairly make the argument that unions gotta get real and stop threatening strikes over unused sick time and Lincoln’s birthday ( full disclosure: I’m CWA local 1032 ). But on the flip side, perks – however petty they may sound – are bargaining chips in the larger chess game of negotiating multi-year deals. The unions at least want the Democrats to pretend to show them some love instead of jumping on the “my property taxes are high and it’s the unions’ fault!” bandwagon.

The Democratic party needs to think about – you know, the party. They gotta stand for someone. Unions vote. And as one Democrat observed “It’s easy to craft a mission when you are unified, it’s nearly impossible when you are not.” If the anger from these loose coalition groups that comprise the Democratic party starts to bubble over the surface, the party could lose it’s cool like Richard Dreyfuss and never outsmart the guy who is actually outsmarting them.

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They say that China is currently undergoing the largest military build-up since Japan’s efforts prior to World War II.

Hmmm. I can’t say that makes me feel exactly safe. Although conventional wisdom seems to suggest that an economic dispute with China ( the most likely precursor to war ) would result in some kind of cyber attack that would cripple our ability to function and provide services. In other words, they might be more inclined to try and undermine The US from within by causing pandemonium in the streets instead of a boring old conventional military attack. Somehow I’d rather take my chances with the former option rather than see Red-starred tanks rolling up on West State Street.

What the hell am I talking about??? Oh right, the CWA. Here in New Jersey, the state’s largest public employee union is also building up for war with the Christie Administration.

In a letter sent out to members last week, union leaders are asking for more money. They want to establish a Strategic Industry Fund that would pay for media defending public workers. That includes tv commercials. The local presidents have already approved this fund, and now they are asking members to sign off. It would cost an additional 1/10th of 1% of pay. They argue that almost every other bargaining unit in the country already pays more in dues specifically to cover media.  Here in NJ for example, the NJEA already pays the special assessment.

The letter to CWA members reads “No one can work in New Jersey and not be aware of the attack we are under that includes budget cuts…a plan to eliminate Civil Service…and a “toolkit” designed to destroy us.”

It continues with “The disastrous economy has created the perfect storm for this Governor to make us “Public Enemy” number two, right behind the teachers.”

In nearly 30 years, CWA has never raised dues. So, it sounds like the sleeping giant is looking to quietly up-armor and be ready for what they believe will be a protracted war.

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It’s that time of the year again. The New Jersey Press Association presents the Legislative Correspondent’s Club annual show.

Basically, the state’s  ( now dwindling ) press corps performs a series of skits and songs that mock the political and media elite of the Garden State. It is often quite funny replete with costumes, wigs and other flamboyant accessories that would make even Elton John blush.

As for my role…well, I am El Presidente this year. That means I don’t actually have to sing ( which is not my strong suit ). I have to deliver the introductory speech which is supposed to be funny and slightly mean spirited. Well, I don’t know how funny it shall be, although I’m working on it. It will most certainly be biting, and of course familiar.

Then of course, after the show is over, people get to stand around and hang out in a cocktail party-type atmosphere which is even more fun. And the whole evening is off the record. So, if you are remotely interested, I urge you to purchase tickets. Proceeds go to charity.

Contact Peg Stephan 609-406-0600 ext. 14. or pastephan@njpa.org

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With all that is happening in Trenton these days, a handful of interesting stories have received very little public notice. Apparently the state’s Board of Public Utilities is planning to move it’s offices out of Newark to Trenton.

Since 1911 ( 99 years ) The BPU has been in Newark where the state’s utility companies were originally located. Because it’s a bit too much to put in a blog, I’m going to skip what happened in between and fast forward to the Christie transition report which recommended the move. The new BPU Prez Lee Solomon told staff on March 2nd that the move was imminent.

The idea here ostensibly is to save money. Or as one Republican told me The BPU has always been used by Democrats as “a great place to put people working on political campaigns without attracting the attention of the State House media.” If it moves to Trenton the Governor can “keep an eye on it.” I asked PIO Greg Reinert how much would actually be saved and he said  the “savings are expected to be substantial. But Since we are currently in the planning phase, we are not prepared to release a cost analysis.”

So, here is what I was able to find out. The BPU rents two floors in Newark’s Gateway Center. Two floors – 45,000 square feet each at a price of $26 per square foot which roughs out to $2.38 million a year in rent. Some say, the Trenton space would be cheaper by a third, but much else would be lost.

For example, the 200 Newark employees who would need to relocate are overwhelmingly opposed to the move, according to union leaders. They say the refurbishing that would have to take place at the Trenton locale would wind up costing up to $12 million as the state rebuilds the 800 customer assistance lines, among other things. Plus, workers say you could wind up hurting the city of Newark. First of all, the loss of 200 people contributing to the local economy is substantial even in a large city like Newark. Plus the “collateral damage.” The 32 staff attorneys at the Div. of Rate Counsel would likely follow them down as would another 20 at the Division of Law. Finally critics warn of a domino effect where a really large employer like PSE&G decides it no longer makes sense to be in Brick City.

But here is the other thing. We have heard this song before. In 1991, then Governor Florio pushed to move the BPU to Trenton. However, Dick Codey and Sharpe James came to the rescue making the arguments about the losses to Essex County and Newark. Those same reasons exist today.

Of course, it’s a different climate now. And from what I understand the BPU has a lease through 2019, which doesn’t jibe with the fast-track approach of moving by the end of the year. We shall see.

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Wednesday’s Assembly Budget Committee hearing was quite a show. Literally. I mean, a parent with developmentally disabled children, a blind 13-year old boy…in other words a handful of good people who will be adversely affected by Chris Christie’s proposed mid-year cuts.

I suppose if the Democrats think Christie isn’t playing fair by governing through “fiat” then they too can deliver a forceful blow back. It’s hard after all when you meet someone who really needs whatever modest help he or she is getting from the state and conclude that they don’t deserve it. ( Take that! You whiny advocates for mental health!!! )

On Thursday, the Senate’s State Government Committee took public testimony on the pension reform bills. I was expecting to see more of show here, but it wound up being a tad undramatic. The unions criticized the proposals although in a more muted fashion. I suppose they know that reform is inevitable and since the bills do not really force changes for current employees, they might as well take the hit and hope that whatever is going on in the Assembly will produce comparable bills that leave currents harmless.

What was curious about the new-and-improved Senate committee ( which now includes wagering, tourism and historic preservation ) was that Shirley Turner was absent. Officially I was told that she was busy since the committee doesn’t normally meet on this day. But some conspiracy theorists opined that she was not on board with these bills, and might therefore have agreed or even been pressured to take the day off. After all, the only way Democrats can stand up to their constituents in the unions is if they speak with one voice. Why should Turner get a pass and be allowed to vote against? Needless to say, with substitute Barbara Buono sitting on the committee in Turner’s absence, the four bills cleared unanimously.

Programming note: In case you were wondering about the previous post’s title “Yes I can…as long as the Democrats say it’s OK” that is indeed a ‘Spinal Tap’ reference. It’s a play on Bruno Kirby’s speech to the band about what the name of Sammy Davis Jr.’s autobiography should actually be titled.

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I love saying “pension bomb.” Not only does it take a somewhat wonky issue and make it sound cool, but it’s also a pretty accurate way to sum up what’s happening.

Here is the very un-sexy fact about solving this problem: none of the current leaders will likely be in power to reap the rewards if bold action is taken now. It took years for the problem to balloon into a full fledged crisis and it could take a generation for the ship to right itself.

Which is why you gotta give Senate President Stephen Sweeney some credit. This is the sacred cow of working folks and it’s tough to take them on publicly even if many people are on your side.

The climate has actually gotten so murky that I am told the NJEA is considering running ads to pre-empt the upcoming budget season which could conceivably place teachers in the cross-hairs.

But some have also chimed in that the reforms don’t go far enough. In other words if we are going to choose this point in time to diffuse the bomb, we might as well really take the shrapnel out of it.

One of the proposals is to extend the retirement calculation from three years to five. That will produce savings, no doubt. But the real savings would come from taking on local police and fire unions that only use their last year of service to calculate their pension. Very often, that final year can be loaded up with OT. So, big savings would accumulate if that was extended from one to three. But somehow, I can’t really see top Dems taking on first responders in the post-9/11 environment which we were reminded over Christmas – still very much exists.

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Shortly after winning the election Chris Christie floated the idea of an emergency declaration to get the state’s fiscal house in order.

A declaration would give the Governor broad new powers. However, it’s reserved for things like hurricanes and other force majeures that are unaticipated and deliver chaos. i suppose we could argue over whether New Jersey is in that bad a fiscal shape, but what if Christie uses the declaration to overturn New Jersey civil service laws which govern public employees?

I am told that the transition team has an army of lawyers looking into this. But when I asked the Governor-elect about it Friday, he didn’t show his hand. He acknowledged that many things are being considered and looked at. He went on to say that he disagrees with having civil service and collective bargaining because it gives workers the right to grieve to both places until they get the desired outcome.

New Jersey’s civil service laws were established to protect workers from being ( hehe ) politicized. The idea was to keep hiring merit based. Labor leaders are predictably concerned if Christie were to do away with them.  It’ll be curious to see if he tries.

It’s also unclear what that buys him. But no doubt it would eliminate protections for workers that have been established over many decades.

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We are receiving word that CWA has overwhelmingly approved the new contract negotiated with Governor Corzine earlier this month.

In some cases the vote was 3 to 1. Basically, it requires the state and the largest state worker union to reopen their contract and give up a 3.5% raise this upcoming fiscal year. Workers will also be taking ten unpaid furlough days.

This is all the result of the unprecendented economic collapse. The threat of layoffs forced the union to make the new concessions, although Republicans say those concessions do not go far enough. Republican Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean called them “election year give backs.”

This was an agreement that was reached on the eve of Veep Joe Biden’s arrival in New Jersey to help Corzine kick-off his re-election campaign. Some have suggested that the White house was balking while the the two sides remained deadlocked.

The same deal also lets workers bank 7 paid holidays that they can use at some point down the road. Total savings to the state is $325 million, and the Guv’s budget depended on the ratification of this agreement. Looks like he is in the clear….for now.

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By now you have probably heard…Vice President Joe Biden almost got cold feet about appearing with Corzine during his big re-election announcement.

The reason? Biden, the Obama Administration’s ‘union guy,’ was a wee bit uncomfortable when NJ’s largest state worker union ( CWA ) threatened to picket across the street.

According to a law enforcement source, the protest had been planned up until 4:00 that afternoon…when union leaders abruptly pulled the plug.

So, was a deal reached to avoid an uncomfortable situation for all? Sources tell me ‘yes.’ Apparently, a deal was hammered out at the last minute that will reduce the number of mandatory furlough days to ten in next year’s budget…down from the original 12 that were proposed. And workers would accept a wage freeze while banking those furloughs and taking additional paid personal days at a later time.

Corzine was not happy about the online article which was first published during Primary night. Wow. talk about having a  parade rained on, right? I thought the Dems were doing that to Christie by having the Veep come in for Corzine on Christie’s big night.

Anyway, I asked Corzine about the deal at a press conference the day after where he initially refused to take my question. He insisted on taking only “on-topic” queries. When nobody had any, he proceeded to take an off-topic question from the Fox News Channel. Thanks, Guv.

But in fairness, he answered it eventually and acknowledged that there is a tentative agreement. He refused to say if it was done at the last minute to avoid political embarrassment which is what the Republicans are accusing him of doing. Can you blame him?

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