NJ Transit union workers to see 21% raise over 9 years, report says

NJ.com 03/14/2016

NJ Transit union rail workers would see a 21 percent wage increase over nearly nine years, under a tentative contract reached Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported. The proposed pact, which averted the state’s first transit strike in 30 years, would give rail workers in 11 unions a total of a 21 percent wage hike over 8.5 years, the Journal said, citing unnamed union officials. The proposed contract also covers the years back to 2011, which is the last year that workers had a new agreement. A Presidential Emergency Board had recommended an 18.4 percent increase over 6.5 years. Christie announced on March 11, 2016 that NJ Transit has come to a tentative agreement with the coalition comprised of all 11 unions, representing over 4,200 New Jersey Transit employees. In exchange, union negotiators agreed to increased health insurance payments, which had been a major sticking point in the talks. Union sources told the Journal that employees would pay about $130 or $160 a month for medical coverage, depending on which plan they were covered by and seniority. Currently they pay $81.95 a month.

A union member told NJ Advance Media that employees would pay 2.48 percent of their straight time salary toward health benefits under the proposal. That’s an increase from the 1.8 percent that the Presidential Emergency Board report said they currently pay, but slightly less than the 2.5 percent recommended by the PEB. NJ Transit was seeking between a 10 and 20 percent contribution from employees toward health care premiums. One union had said that could push contributions to an average cost of $460 per month, up to as much as $642 a month for families. Both union officials and Gov. Chris Christie declined to release details of the agreement after the settlement was announced last Friday, until members of the 11 unions saw them first. That process is slowly starting to happen. Some unions could start voting on the proposed agreement as soon as Tuesday.

Where NJ Transit gained ground was in concessions on the pay scale for new employees and in retirement benefits, sources told the Journal. The decision to settle came down to NJ Transit agreeing to retroactive increases for retirees, those officials said. “It’s looks very good. … Better than what most members expected,” said a union member, who saw the terms and asked that his name not be used. A tentative settlement stopped the clock 30 hours before a 90-day federal cooling off period ended, after which unions could strike or be locked out by management. Neither Christie nor union officials would reveal the details of the settlement until union members saw it. Christie said the contract extends to 2019, longer than the 2017-2018 duration proposed by the unions and NJ Transit. Christie characterized the settlement as “a fair accommodation of the union and the taxpayer and that everyone made specific compromises.” He said it would not result in a fare increase in fiscal year 2017, which starts on July 1.

New Jersey Unemployment Rate Plummets to 4.5 Percent, Well Below National Rate

Lwd.state.nj.us 03/14/2016

New Jersey’s unemployment rate plunged to 4.5 percent in January, according to data released by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which also showed that Garden State employment gains in 2015 were significantly higher than initially reported with private sector employers adding 83,600 jobs over-the-year, the best year for private sector job growth since 1999. New Jersey private sector employers have added 256,100 jobs since February 2010, recouping all private sector jobs lost during the Great Recession. The dramatic drop in New Jersey’s unemployment rate over-the-year (December 2014 – December 2015) was the steepest in the nation, falling by 1.6 percentage points, according to the BLS data. The unemployment rate for New Jersey was consistently overstated throughout 2015, and was actually at or better than the national rate during the entire fourth quarter of last year, according to what is known as the BLS “benchmark” report, which is a required annual review and adjustment of previously released state-by-state employment data. The benchmark revisions show the state’s unemployment rate remained stable or declined each month since May 2012, and is now down by 5.3 percentage points from a recessionary high of 9.8 percent in January 2010.

Benchmark revisions for 2015 – The results of the latest annual benchmarking adjustment process—conducted by BLS each year at this time for every state—show previously released employment levels for 2014 and 2015 were consistently underestimated. After benchmark revisions for public and private sector employment, the over-the-year (December 2014 – December 2015) change reveals that New Jersey’s employers added 81,500 total nonfarm jobs in 2015. The revised 2015 total nonfarm employment gain is more than the previously reported gain of 65,200 while total nonfarm job growth in 2014 was higher as well. The benchmarked data show that 2015 represents New Jersey’s sixth consecutive year (December – December) of private sector job growth. The average unemployment rate for 2015 was revised downward. The annual average BLS data show the rate for 2015 at 5.6 percent, down from 6.7 percent in 2014.

January 2016 estimates – Preliminary nonfarm wage and salary estimates for January show total nonfarm employment contracted by 14,100 jobs, with private sector employment lower by 10,800 and the public sector down by 3,300. Industry sectors that added jobs in January included: information (+1,800), trade, transportation and utilities (+1,000), other services (+300), and manufacturing (+300). Sectors that trimmed payrolls included professional and business services (-10,100), financial activities (-1,700), education and health services (-1,700), leisure and hospitality (-500), and construction (-200). Government employment was lower by 3,300 over the month, with decreases recorded in all three levels of government: state (-2,200), federal (-700), and local (-400). Preliminary BLS data for February 2016 will be released on March 24, 2016.

NJ Transit strike averted, Christie ‘pleased’ by agreement

CapitalNewYork.com 03/11/2016

NJ Transit and 11 unions say they have reached a tentative agreement on a new labor contract with a critical deadline just a day away, averting a strike that would have shut down one of the nation’s busiest commuter railroads. Gov. Chris Christie said Friday night that he was pleased at the results of a tentative agreement, and that it would not result in fare hikes or changes to service. He would not disclose details but said the specifics would be released after unions ratify the agreement, which he said should be “fairly quickly.” SMART-TD Local 60 general chairman Stephen Burkert, a spokesman for the unions, gave a brief statement in the lobby of the Hilton Penn Station in Newark, saying that “thankfully for the commuters of New Jersey transit the crisis is averted. We thank our members for having faith in us.” The unions were scheduled to go on strike at 12:01 a.m. Sunday if no agreement had been reached on a labor contract that will cover about 4,200 railroad workers. After five years without a contract and the intervention of two presidential emergency boards, the clock has been ticking down and the stakes were rising by the hour. A shutdown would have brought the region to its knees, severing one of the most important links between New Jersey and Manhattan.

For much of the week, the two sides have been huddling together at the Hilton Hotel, just across the street from Newark Penn Station, at times showing outwards signs of optimism and at others leaving with dour faces that raised concerns that a deal was elusive. The discussions ended Thursday on an ominous note after NJ Transit sent a strike notice to workers. The agency said it was required by law. The unions said it was harassment and retaliation. Christie said that he was intensely involved in negotiations for the past two weeks, although he did not directly speak to union representatives, and that he did not think the state had come close to a strike, although he acknowledged that it was a “dynamic situation run by human beings.” He also said that no outrageous demands were granted, and that the compromise came after “long and hard negotiations.” He also said that they reached an agreement that is good until the end of 2019, which was longer than recommended by the presidential emergency boards. “This will give workers and commuters a measure of certainty and stability as we go forward.”

The 11 unions have not had a contract since 2011. Two emergency negotiating boards appointed by President Barack Obama made recommendations that NJ Transit rejected, saying it could not afford to pay the cost. The last presidential board recommended the agency accept the final offer made by the unions, which included a six-and-half-year contract, annual raises of 1.5 percent to 3.5 percent and a maximum health care contribution of 5 percent annually, according to the board’s final report. It would have cost about $183 million. NJ Transit negotiators had offered a seven-and-a-half year contract with much lower raises — forgoing a raise for 2011, providing $1,000 payments for 2012 and annual increases of 1 percent to 2.5 percent thereafter. Employees would have had to contribute 20 percent of the cost of their health insurance.

NJ Transit Chief Says no Lockout Planned, Fare Increase Possible

Capitalnewyork.com 3/9/2016

The head of NJ Transit said Wednesday (March 9) that the agency does not plan to lockout rail workers if it can’t come to terms with their unions, setting aside an option that Gov. Chris Christie had kept available two days earlier. “We have no plans for a lockout,” interim executive director Dennis Martin told reporters after the agency’s monthly meeting on Wednesday (March 9). Christie had said Monday (March 7) he didn’t want to take any tools off the table, including a potential lockout. The railroad and 11 unions are engaged in protracted contract negotiations that could come to a head this week. A cooling off period will end at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, allowing the 4,200 rail workers to go on strike if a deal isn’t reached. The two sides have been unable to agree on wages, healthcare premiums and the length of the new contract and won’t discuss the details of the various offers being considered. It’s unclear how much the new contract would cost. A proposal recommended by an emergency negotiations board appointed by President Barack Obama- and rejected by NJ Transit- would have cost about $183 million. Martin said he couldn’t “rule out” the possibility of a fare increase to pay for the costs of new contracts for the unions, which had their last bargaining agreements expire in 2011. Fares were increased by 9 percent last year on NJ Transit trains and busses. Both sides said they made progress on Tuesday (March 8) and plan to meet again Thursday to go over several offers and counter offers that are on the table. The unions say it could be the day a deal gets done. NJ Transit has drawn up contingency plans in case the railroad shuts down, but agency officials have said they can accommodate only about 38 percent of the 105,000 daily commuters to New York City. An additional 55,000 daily riders would also have no option. The resulting increase in traffic could cause 25-mile backups on state highways, officials said.

Despite Atlantic City’s Opposition, Senate to Consider takeover plan

Nj1015.com 3/9/2016

The collapse of the gaming industry that has led to the closing of one-third of the seaside resort’s casinos has had a crippling effect on property values and city services. Despite cuts in local spending, more outside help is needed – but if it comes, it’ll be with major strings attached. Gov. Chris Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney have agreed on legislation that would give state officials vast powers over municipal decision-making – such as the ability to break union contracts, sell city assets and lay off workers. Initially, Atlantic City Mayor, Don Guardian, strenuously opposed Sweeney’s proposal, which has been intermittently called a takeover, intervention or partnership, depending on the day and who was talking. That’s part of what made his endorsement of the concept Jan. 26 surprising. It was also short-lived. Guardian and other city officials are back to fighting the idea. On Tuesday, according to the Press of Atlantic City, Guardian told the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association convention: “I might lose my job as mayor. We will file bankruptcy, but I’m not giving in to the state.” If the state takes control of local government, among the moves it may make is to dissolve the city’s police department in favor of a county-based department that would patrol the city, similar to what is being done in Camden. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) has said the Atlantic City bill should not include the authority to dissolve union contracts. He also says Christie should not have vetoed “payment in lieu of taxes” legislation in January that would have provided funding to stave off Atlantic City’s potential bankruptcy; it did not include the takeover now being contemplated. Atlantic City can pay its bills into April, but the situation beyond that is unclear. The takeover bill would allow the state to make local governing decisions for five years. It would be permitted to dissolve local agencies, veto the actions of the governing council, sell assets, terminate contracts, modify the terms of collectively bargained agreements, such as salaries and hours, abolish positions and lay off employees, offer early retirement incentives and enter shared services agreements.