Analysis: Partisan And Labor Politics Drive Battle Over Health-Benefits Reform

By Mark J. Magyar, NJSpotlight, November 25, 2014

Big question is whether Christie, Legislature set health-benefit payments or unions get back collective-bargaining rights.

As Gov. Chris Christie’s Pension and Health Benefits Study Commission wrestles with the issue of how much public employees should pay toward their health insurance, New Jersey’s public-employee unions are focused not only on how much they will pay, but also on making sure they win back the right to collective bargaining on healthcare issues.

It is an issue that bitterly divided the Democratic Party and the labor movement four years ago, and its resolution poses political risks for Christie’s quest for the Republican presidential nomination and the expected gubernatorial candidacy of Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester).

Over the furious objections of union leaders, Chapter 78, the 2011 revision to the state’s pension and health benefits law, suspended collective bargaining on health coverage for four years, and required public employees to pay significantly more for their health insurance — from 3 percent for employees making under $25,000 to 35 percent for those making over $110,000.

As a result, the state’s public employees are now paying more out-of-pocket for individual health insurance policies and the 10th-highest amount for family coverage in the nation, and a higher percentage than many private sector employees in New Jersey, a NJ Spotlight analysis showed.

Read more here.