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NJ Transit strike averted, Christie ‘pleased’ by agreement

Friday, March 18, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 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.

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