Archive for the ‘State Worker Furloughs’ Category

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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As suspected, the agreement between the Corzine Administration and CWA – the largest state worker union – has cleared the way for a budget deal that is within reach.

Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts told NJN News a budget will likely be finalized over the weekend, and go to the committees as early as next Thursday. They are hoping to have the whole budget passed by June 12th.

Coupla things here…first, that’s pretty amazing to have it all wrapped up by mid-June considering it often ends up in late inning drama. This year was particularly contentious because the union and the Governor were at odds during his re-election year. Secondly, it hasn’t happened yet…so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

But as of now all sytems appear to be go.

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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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Actually, it was really more of a rally.

On Thursday night, the Civil Service Commission held a public hearing on the Governor’s furlough plan for state workers in next year’s budget. Originally there was no mechanism for temporary layoffs, as the furloughs are also known, which is why the commission adopted the new rule on an emergency basis last month allowing for two days of furloughs this year – one in May and one in June.

You remember that meeting, right? four workers got arrested…NJN had exclusive video. But I digress.

to accomodate all those who wanted to speak, the public hearing was held at the armory in Lawrenceville. Hundreds of state workers showed up. They arrived by the busload.

In fact, they couldn’t all fit inside so the spill-over crowd held a rally on the lawn.

But that is not the only reason it was like a rally. The Civil Service Commission only had one person there. The 4-member panel ( normally there are five members but there is a vacancy ) was nowhere to be seen. That resulted in a bit of an echo chamber as the union preached to the choir.

The Commission meantime, said that was normal for these types of hearings. Of course, the newly created Commission has never had a hearing quite like this one. We asked if there were bylaws that specified who needed to be at one of these meetings and whether or not a quorum was necessary, but Commission spokesman Mark Perkiss never got back to us.

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three days, three hearings. Twice in the Senate Budget Committee, once in the Assembly Budget Committee.

Rather than regurgitate all of the facts and figures that were thrown around, I will highlight some of the standout moments.

The Senate heard from George Hayman, the Corrections Commissioner. Apparently, a goal of his is to reduce overtime costs for his officers by cutting back hours. In fact, Corrections is not subject to mandatory state worker furloughs because that would actually incur more overtime. Who said temporary layoffs would save money?

But the stat he gave which jumped out at me was that in these tough fiscal times, the state spends $39,000 per inmate per year. Wow. That is indeed a a lot of money, and there are 25,000 inmates. Half of all offenders are violent, which means the other half are not. NJ now has drug courts in every county to deal with some of those non-violent drug offenders, but Democratic Senator Shirley Turner seemed to be making the case with her questioning that the state needs to do better in terms of locking people up who would be better served with treatment.

Heather Howard, the Commissioner of Health & Senior Services testified that the state will maintain charity care at current levels. That is reimbursing hospitals for the cost of treating the uninsured. NJ currently spends $600 million for the billion that is spent each year, and the feds pay half of that. She didn’t have too many answers for why so many hospitals are closing. The Governor’s Commission on Rationalizing Health Care Resources concluded in its report last year that there are too many hospital beds in NJ, and some facilities would have to close. There were 14 closure applications submitted in 2008. But even if some need to shut their doors, people have great anxiety about it happening in their community.

Anne Milgram the state’s Attorney General came under fire from Repubs on why her budget for hiring outside counsel jumped to $26 million last year from $20 million the year before. Republican Senator Kevin O’Toole suggested that did not make a lot of sense since in-house attorneys make $80 an hour, and outside counsel charges up to $500 per hour. Milgram responded that like other departments, Law & Public Safety has had to make do with fewer resources. The number of attorneys is down about 25%, and the number of state troopers is also down…ideal number is 3300, right now there are 3000.

So, it does beg the question did all those early retirement plans enacted by the Governor result in a savings for the state?

I suppose the answer in the agregate is: yes. But in some cases, work that still needs to get done now gets done at greater expense to taxpayers.

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They finally had their day…attorneys for 6 public employee unions representing 200, 000 workers made arguments before a three judge panel.

For more than three hours the the state attorneys  and union lawyers went round and around over what constitutes  “imminent peril.” It is the definition of these words which go to the heart of Civil Service Commission’s adotion of an emergency rule change allowing two unpaid furloughs this fiscal year – one in May and one in June. The furloughs apply to CWA-representeed state workers and potentiall all local municial workers who are governed by civil service law.

Governor Corzine has proposed 12 furlough days next year…but that was not at issue today in court.

Anyway, there was no decision and no resolution as to whether or not the state had met the definition of imminent peril ( ag’s office claimed for guv that a nearly $3 billion budget gap is imminent peril-y enough )…but something else came out of this that caught my attention.

Corzine claims that the two furlough days for state workers will save $35 million. Not so, say the unions. According to CWA, New Jersey will actually lose money because some public employees draw their salaries through the federal government and others are fee-based.

In other words, each furlough day actually winds up with a savings for the state of only $4 million. And when we are dealing with a $32 Billion dollar budget it is probably fair to say that 8 mil ain’t all that much. Whicvh brings us to the larger question…did the Governor need to make a show of getting tough with the unions in some capacity in order to have some street cred in this year’s gubernatorial election?

like my friends at FOX…I report. you decide.

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Well, here is the YouTube video from last week’s Civil Service Commission vote.

This puts it out there on a far more permanent basis, since the NJN website recycles each story after one week. The fallout continues. Yesterday, the PBA which represents 33,000 police officers, CWA which represents about 55,000 public employees, AFSCME, firefighters union and others went to court to block the furloughs.

According to the PBA’s motion, the emergency rule change approved last week can only be done without public hearings when there is “imminent peril” facing the state. They are arguing that the budget crisis does not rise to that level. But as the Star-Ledger points out today, similar challenges have failed in other states including California. Of course, Jersey ain’t California…but you get the idea.

Two schools of thought on this. One is that public employees have had it pretty good for a long time including lifetime benefits and pensions when they retire at age 55. Obviously, a furlough is a vast improvement over a layoff, the world is changing and they should feel lucky to have jobs given what is happening in the  private sector economy.

Of course the counter to that is furloughs will likely hit the unionized workers who can least afford it the hardest. Those who may not be getting the same benefits packages because they were recently hired, and those who are certainly making a lot less for that same reason.

There are certainly some structural flaws in how this state operates. But union people vote. And like in every merit-based Democracy – fair or unfair – those who vote call the dance.

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