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.