N.J. begins talks with unions

    Contract talks between the New Jersey and the largest union representing the state’s public employees will begin Friday.

    The current contract for about 40,000 state workers who belong to the Communications Workers of America expires at the end of June.

    Gov. Chris Christie said he’s ready for fair but aggressive negotiations.

    “I’m here to protect the money of the taxpayer. They’re there to take it,” he said. “We’ve got to find a common ground to make sure that works the right way, and I’m happy to engage in that back and forth.”

    Bob Master, CWA political director, said the governor’s approach has been to vilify public employees for the state’s fiscal problems.

    “There is a way in which I sense from him a sense of, frankly, glee at the opportunity to slash the living standards of middle-class public workers.”

    Master said it will be difficult for workers to cope with any changes in their compensation and benefits.

    “We are not getting rich. We do not have exorbitant pensions. When you hear about the $150,000 and $200,000 pensions, that’s not our members,” he said. “Our average pension is $25,000 a year. It’s a modicum of middle-class retirement security.”

    The union has maintained changes to workers’ health and pension benefits should be decided at the bargaining table, not by legislation.

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