Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature–as well as the state’s new Republican governor–are giving a cold shoulder to once powerful public employee unions.

The unions, “long seen as a potent political force and often depicted as an 800-pound gorilla looming over the Statehouse, are running short of friends in Trenton,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (here).

Republican Governor Chris Christie has been joined by Democratic legislators in calling for cuts in government employee benefits. Most notably those legislators include union officials.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), business officer for an ironworkers’ local, made cutting public employee pensions and health coverage his first priority as head of the chamber. Fellow Democrats, sensing unease with high taxes and public resentment toward government workers’ benefits, joined behind him and the governor.

(snip)

[Sweeney] said public benefits needed to be brought in line with the private sector’s, adding that ironworkers in his union paid for 100 percent of their health coverage.

Even the president of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO, Senator Donald Norcross, D-Camden, supported a bill cutting public employee benefits.

Approved overwhelmingly by the Senate and Assembly, the bill was signed into law by Governor Christie in March. The measure includes:

…rolling back that 2001 pension increase; requiring all public workers to pay 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their health-care premiums; tightening requirements to qualify for public pensions and health coverage; limiting pension accrual to one job per person per year; and capping at $15,000 the amount that workers can receive for accumulated sick days.

However, this isn’t the first benefit rollback of benefits in New Jersey, where state workers previously agreed to take 10 unpaid furlough days. In contrast, New York State public employee unions have rejected proposals for a salary freeze and a five-day deferral of wages.

In New Jersey, “people in the labor movement feel like Democrats are abandoning their friends, are being intimidated by the governor’s attack on public workers…” Robert Master, regional political director of the Communications Workers of America, told the Inquirer.

After years of giving heavily to Democratic campaigns in New Jersey, Master said, “the checkbook is closed.”

Master is a familiar face in Albany where he represents the CWA. He also is co-chair of the Working Families Party in New York.

Originally Published: NY Public Payroll Watch

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