State Workers Target New Jersey Dems

Teachers and state workers in New Jersey are used to doing battle with Chris Christie, the tough-talking Republican governor who has criticized labor unions from the day he took office last year. Right now, however, public employees are also fighting with Democratic legislators.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, both Democrats, have raised the ire of state employees, pressing forward with a plan that could significantly reduce 500,000 workers' take-home pay by increasing benefit costs. According to The Star-Ledger of Newark, the plan could double or even triple annual health insurance costs for all state workers, while asking them to take more out of their paychecks for pension contributions as well.

The proposal is in keeping with what many other states have done this year. From Alabama to Connecticut - in both Republican- and Democratic-led states - lawmakers have asked workers to pay more for their benefits to ensure the long-term solvency of their pension and health care systems.

In New Jersey, however, Democrats have typically stood with public workers and against the governor. That has made for an uneasy few weeks in Trenton, as Democratic lawmakers now seek ways to rein in soaring, taxpayer-funded benefit costs without alienating the public employees who represent one of their core constituencies.

Oliver and Sweeney demonstrate the Democrats' tricky position. The two legislative leaders are pushing the benefits change over the strident objections of many of their fellow Democrats in the Legislature, but they are characterizing the plan as a tough pill that lawmakers and public workers alike need to swallow.

"This plan recognizes the simple truth that workers need to put more towards their own health care, but in a way that is fair to them, their families, and their neighbors who are picking up the tab," Sweeney said of his proposal, according to The Star-Ledger .

Public employees do not see it that way. They are planning a raucous protest in Trenton on Thursday (June 16), when the legislation will receive a public hearing. They are asking demonstrators to drive around the city at the speed limit - and not a mile more - to create traffic headaches and prevent lawmakers and staffers from getting to the Capitol.

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