BY TOM HESTER SR.
The head of the New Jersey AFL-CIO Wednesday said Gov. Chris Christie's 33-bill plan that the governor foresees helping to control local government and school spending, could actually impact of many of them like "a jackhammer, destroying the delivery of essential services and workers' rights.''
Charles Wowkanech said the proposed constitutional amendment to levy a 2.5 percent cap on spending, including salaries and benefits for employees, as well as a 2.5 percent cap for property tax levy increases, would hinder the ability to deliver public services, and is not realistic considering what he sees as the high cost of living.
"When taking into consideration inflation and the cost of health care alone, this amendment would effectively guarantee that workers would never get a raise and it would also decimate the collective bargaining process,'' Wowkanech said. "For all workers, the cost of higher education for them and their children are skyrocketing, the cost of food and gas is growing dramatically, the cost of car and homeowner insurance grows, the list goes on and on.
"When the everyday costs of living are increasing by well over 2.5 percent, how is this fair to effectively stop government workers from receiving a raise to keep up?,'' he said.
Wowkanech said other proposals that would negatively affect workers included revised procedures for arbitration and allowing local government to opt-out of civil service.
He said civil service and arbitration for police and fire fighters are core labor standards that must be protected.
"Civil service ensures equal opportunity for all applicants, which in turn rejects discrimination in hiring,'' Wowkanech said. "It is a core labor policy that was created to ensure public jobs are not subject to politics and patronage, which often leads to waste and fraud. New Jersey's civil service law is necessary to ensure personnel matters are done according to the applicants' qualifications, rather than being applied inconsistently or due to political interference. Ending civil service would jeopardize these long standing practices.
"Enough is enough,'' Wowkanech said. "The governor must stop playing politics with the livelihood of people we depend on every day. These public workers staff our transportation systems and maintain our roads and provide care for the sick and needy. They are police and fire fighters who keep us safe and cafeteria workers in state institutions, and teachers that educate our children, as well as literally hundreds of other professions. We are deeply disheartened and disappointed with many of these proposals. These men and women deserve to be respected. They must be able to work with dignity, and for many, unions help to achieve this. We call on the legislature to return these tools (bills) to the governor and to protect workers and essential government services.''