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New NJ Transit contract meets nearly all rail workers demands, sources say

Friday, March 18, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 03/14/2016

NJ Transit’s 4,200 rail workers appear to have won nearly everything they demanded in a new contract, including retroactive pay, steady salary increases and a firm cap on employees’ health insurance costs, workers with knowledge of the terms said Monday. The only point NJ Transit won is an agreement to extend the new contract through the end of 2019, a year and a half longer than the unions had requested, those interviewed said Monday. That was viewed as a concession to NJ Transit, since it forestalls another pay raise for at least an extra year, said Frank Wilner, a rail labor expert. The 11 unions will vote this week on whether to ratify the agreement, a number of union leaders said. Workers achieved annual salary increases of 2.5 percent per year, beginning in 2011, when the current contract came up for negotiation. That represents a cumulative pay raise of more than 21 percent through 2019. Workers also won a cap on health insurance benefits equal to about 2.5 percent of their base pay, or about $40 a week, said a half-dozen workers who had been briefed by union leaders on the details. In a letter to federal labor negotiators, NJ Transit said those terms would cost the agency an additional $183 million by 2018.

The terms closely mirror those recommended by two different presidential emergency boards, which were appointed by President Obama to try to bring the two sides to agreement. Those endorsements strengthened the unions’ hand under the federal Railway Labor Act of 1926, which sets the rules for the dispute. If NJ Transit hadn’t given workers what they wanted, the unions could have gone on strike any time after midnight on Saturday. After that it would have fallen to Congress, which has the power to order the strikers back to work and impose a new contract. The only win for NJ Transit was the length of the contract. It remains unclear how NJ Transit will afford salary increases its leaders recently called unaffordable. When Governor Christie announced the deal Friday night, he said it would not require NJ Transit to raise fares at least through July 31, 2017. After that, he said, another fare increase is possible. Riders and transit advocates were angered by the most recent fare increase, last summer, when NJ Transit raised them 9 percent to cover a $56 million budget gap. However, Christie did not rule out a fare hike to cover rising expenses next year, his last in office. The contract is retroactive, which means the 2.5 percent raises will apply to paychecks from 2011 to the present, the union members said. Workers will receive their retroactive pay divided into two lump sums, one paid this year and once next year, the workers said.“It’s a victory for the unions, no doubt,” said an electrician for NJ Transit who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We didn’t want anything extravagant. We just wanted to keep pace with the cost of living.” The deal remains tentative until at least 51 percent of the members of each of NJ Transit’s 11 rail unions approve it. If one of the unions votes no, that creates the possibility of an immediate strike, Wilner said, since all of the unions previously voted to strike as early as 12:01 a.m. Sunday if they did not receive a contract they liked.

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