The Governor announced a 2.1 billion dollar shortfall in the state budget. With the warning of much deeper cuts coming, this round of cuts included a proposed wage freeze of 18 months for state workers:
“We would like to negotiate a salary freeze as opposed to turning to more difficult issues, although ones that we believe we can deal with, and those are furloughs and layoffs,” Corzine said. “Layoffs are a very complicated process, take five or six months to actually get into place and are extraordinarily disruptive, but if necessary we can go there.”
The unions didn’t like the threats and vowed to fight:
“Although we will always work with the governor to find ways to both raise revenues and save money, we are not going to reopen our contracts. Those contracts were based on the principle of mutual sacrifice, with workers agreeing to make increased contributions to the cost of health care and pensions, in return for modest wage increases,” said Sheryl Gordon, executive director of AFSCME union Council 1.
“We will not reopen the contract,” said Hetty Rosenstein, CWA’s New Jersey director. “Of course we worry about layoffs, but it would be such a bad and terrible thing to do to workers during a recession, it just doesn’t make any sense. We’re so understaffed, and there’s a greater need for public services right now.”
Rae Roeder, president of CWA union Local 1033, said Corzine hasn’t shown the public any substantial proof in his first three years in office of how he trimmed government spending on things such as paid consultants and private firms.
“Bottom line, no governor is going to threaten myself or any of the workers. We’re tired of his threats and the innuendos and everything else. When the governor said, ‘This is the way it is, or else’ — or else, mister, or else maybe you ought to pack up your bag over your failed policies over the last four years and go. Maybe that’s what you should do,” Roeder said.
State workers negotiated in good faith for changes in their last contract, but it’s looking like everyone is going to feel the pain of the budget ax. People can argue back and forth about the poor decisions that put us in this situation, but it’s where we stand. In a case of no desirable options, many people may find themselves asking which is worse: wage freezes or layoffs? There are plenty of people on the unemployment rolls who would gladly have settled for a wage freeze. With revenues continuing to tumble and our structural problems still in place, this may be the best offer they get.