By Briana Vannozzi
One by one labor leaders sounded off about the number of years they’ve gone without contracts. Five seemed to be the magic number.
“Everything is on the line. Collective bargaining is on the line, be you in the public sector or private sector,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell.
Pascrell called together this Labor Advisory Committee at a sheet metal workers union in Carlstadt. The purpose? To start a dialogue about labor issues facing union workers in the state.
“It seems really terrible that people have to wait four, five, six years. There’s people here more than five years without a contract. NJ Transit police, no contract for going on six years, I believe, if it’s not six years. It’s just all across the state,” said Joe Grandioso, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 822.
Many here were thinking about the potential strike or lock out looming between New Jersey Transit and its employees, due to failed negotiations. Workers in the 11 unions that make up the agency have been working without a contract since 2011.
“This is the first time ever with New Jersey Transit that we have not been able to amicably finish something at the negotiating table. First time we’ve gone through a PEB process, we’ve gone through two of them. We had six independent mediators decide. We had the most reasonable offer and yet NJ Transit could not seem to get the funding to get that contract going,” said Stephen Burkert, spokesperson for the SMART Transportation Division.
Burkert represents union members in SMART — sheet metal, air, rail and transportation. He says talks are scheduled for later this week and right now, everything is on the table. Health care seems to be the sticking point.
“It’s a positive sign. We would certainly rather negotiate at the table rather than the picket line, so as long as we keep talking that’s the best thing we can do at this point,” he said.
“Three hundred thousand commuters are at stake. And that could mean a total disruption along the eastern corridor particularly of this state. So the state has to be involved. They can’t have wishful thinking. Everybody has to put their two cents in and we’ve got to get this done right away,” Pascrell said.
Congressman Pascrell and several other members of New Jersey’s delegation sent a letter urging New Jersey Transit’s top bosses to reach a settlement and avoid strike. But transit says federal money that’s been made available can’t be tapped and they need more concessions.
As one union rep put it, labor contract negotiations have turned into something like a staring match. Often with the agency in charge holding out on tough proposals as long as possible, or until either side is the first to blink.