TRENTON – The leader of a union representing one million members called for changes in public workers’ health benefits to be accomplished through negotiation rather than legislation.
“We recognize as trade unionists, as taxpayers and as working families the need to control health care costs,” said Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO. “We know that our unions are ready, willing and able to sit down and negotiate in good faith and in a responsible way. With state employee contracts up for renewal in July, that process should be getting underway now.”
Yesterday, state Sen. President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) unveiled a reform plan that would increase the amount that public workers paid for their health benefits to help save taxpayer money.
“Health benefits are a major factor in what drives up property taxes and this plan will finally do something about it,” said Sweeney. “We cannot continue with band aid measures for issues that deserve real solutions. It is time for action, not sound bites and meaningless political rhetoric that resolve nothing. Government must be run like a business, and this reform package is a major step in that direction.”
Sweeney’s plan would phase in increased employee contributions over a seven-year period, with workers paying up to 30 percent of their health insurance costs. Lower income employees would contribute a smaller percentage of their costs. Local governments and school districts would be required to offer at least five different health plans to give workers a choice based on family status, age and desired level of benefits. More than 100,000 current retirees would be exempt from the plan.
Gov. Chris Christie has called for all government workers and retirees to pay 30 percent of their health care premiums.
The state has a long-term unfunded liability of over $66 billion for public worker and retiree health care costs. Last week, Standard & Poor’s lowered New Jersey’s bond rating over concerns about pension and post-retirement benefits obligations.
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