DRPA authorizes second round of union contracts following Christie veto

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Such is the motto of the DRPA board these days, which once again authorized labor agreements with three of its unions. The vote comes just two weeks after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed the last set of contract proposals, saying that they did not do enough to constrain health care costs.

The new contract proposals would require employees of two of the unions—Teamsters Local Union 676 and International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 542, which represent 211 and 194 DRPA and PATCO employees respectively—to contribute 20 percent of health care cost increases starting in 2017. Previously, DRPA covered 100 percent of healthcare cost increases.

As with the prior proposal, the employees would see 1.9 percent annual wage increases. That includes retroactive pay increases going back a few years; most union employees at DRPA and PATCO have worked without a contract—meaning no pay increases—for the last five years.  DRPA CEO John Hanson said that, on the whole, the increases averaged out to about 1.6 percent over the last few years.

Terms for the third union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 351, are largely left unchanged from the previous, rejected proposal, including the 1.9 percent wage increases. In a separate resolution, however, the DRPA board voted to change the contribution levels to the non-represented employee healthcare plan so that it is now based on percentage of healthcare costs, rather than percentage of salary.  The 21 IBEW workers use the non-represented employee plan.

After last month’s vote, DRPA officials sounded confident that Gov. Christie would allow the labor contract resolutions to sail by his desk without a veto. Instead, the Garden State’s governor squashed them like a bunch of overripe tomatoes, exercising his power in the final moments of the 10-business-day veto window.

This time, DRPA officials were far more circumspect. “The governor hasn’t approved it, so we still have to wait and see,” said Hanson. “We’re hopeful that we addressed the reasons for the veto… and we’re hopeful that the direction that we’ve taken this will be enough to satisfy the governor.”

Even if Gov. Christie keeps his veto pen in the drawer, the deal is far from done, said Hanson. It’s not clear whether the three unions will be willing to accept these new, less generous terms.

“I don’t think anyone thinks these deals are done yet, by a long shot,” said Hanson. “We have a lot of work to do to make it happen.”

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