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On eve of vacation, Christie won’t cede leverage in NJ Transit labor dispute

Wednesday, March 9, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 03/08/2016

Gov. Chris Christie said Monday he wouldn't rule out of the possibility of “locking out” NJ Transit’s rail workers if a deal isn’t reached with 11 labor unions, and he’d be willing to join the negotiations if asked. The Republican governor — who said he was leaving for a planned vacation this week despite the threat of shutdown that could start Sunday — said he isn't willing to lose any leverage as the agency and unions continue their high-stakes talks. “I have to leave all options on the table,” Christie said after an unrelated event in Newark, adding that he wasn’t saying a lockout would be appropriate or inappropriate. “The minute you start taking things off the table and the other side is not taking anything off the table, then you wind up making your position weaker,” the governor continued. “It’s not my job. And I want everyone to remember that I negotiate on behalf of the fare-payers and the taxpayers. Because any money that I give to settling, they’re paying for. It doesn’t come from some magic, hidden, underground source.”

The unions have been without a contract for five years, despite the intervention of two presidential emergency boards, both of which made proposals that NJ Transit rejected. The agency said last week it has made a new offer. Both sides met Friday before the National Mediation Board in Washington and had a “very productive” discussion, according a spokesman for the unions. The talks resumed Monday in Newark. Christie, who celebrates his 30th wedding anniversary this week, plans to leave Tuesday for a vacation with his wife and one of his daughters. He has not said where he is going, just that it will be warmer than New Jersey. A strike — or a lockout — would create a transportation nightmare in New Jersey. NJ Transit announced contingency plans last week but said it would only be able to accommodate 38 percent of commuters to New York City, leaving 65,000 people to find their own way to work. Another 55,000 daily riders who do not commute to New York would also not be accommodated by the contingency, the agency said. In New York, during a contract dispute with the Long Island Rail Road in 2014 with a strike just six days away, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped in to help settle the matter. He presented himself as a neutral party able to broker a deal between the unions and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the LIRR — never mind that the Democrat effectively controls the authority. It ended with a picture-perfect moment for Cuomo, then running for re-election. Christie, by contrast, says he is taking a stand on behalf of fare-payers and taxpayers. He rose to national prominence in part by taking on the public-sector unions early in his first term. But the governor also would not rule out getting involved if the need arises.

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