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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Christie Misrepresents State Workers’ Contract

Chris Christie is misrepresenting the facts about New Jersey union contract negotiations under his predecessor.

Christie has been battling state unions since becoming New Jersey governor in 2010. On CBS’ "Face the Nation" Feb. 27, he exaggerated the generosity of contract terms negotiated (and renegotiated) by Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine’s administration. He also misquoted Corzine’s comments at a state worker rally. 

Christie and host Bob Schieffer discussed the budget showdown in Wisconsin and whether state workers had the right to collective bargaining.

Schieffer: Well, is that good or bad for New Jersey? Do you think they ought to have the right in New Jersey to collective bargaining?

Christie: What I’ve said in New Jersey is, as long as it’s fair and reasonable collective bargaining. You know, we can’t have what we’ve had before. You know, Bob, public sector workers, state workers in New Jersey, this past year, were working under a contract from my predecessor Jon Corzine, got 7 percent salary increases in a zero percent inflation world. I don’t think the people who are paying the bills think that’s the result of fair adversarial collective bargaining. They want someone in the room representing the taxpayers. And that’s what I’ll be this June, when that contract expires.

We take no position on whether the contract negotiated by Corzine was fair to taxpayers. It is misleading, however, to say that state workers "got 7 percent salary increases" from the Corzine administration.

The four-year contract, which took effect July 1, 2007, and expires June 30, 2011, provided for salary increases every July from 2007 through 2011: 3 percent in each of the first two years and 3.5 percent in the last two years. That contract, the New York Times reported at the time, also contained concessions made by the unions. It raised the retirement age for new state workers, required all state workers for the first time to pay a portion of their health care costs, and also increased state workers’ pension contributions. In that pre-recession era, the Times called it a "political victory" for Corzine in his attempts to reduce health care and pension costs.

So, how could Christie — who defeated Corzine in the 2009 election — claim that workers got 7 percent salary increases? 

Well, as the Associated Press later reported, Corzine renegotiated that contract in 2009 and deferred the scheduled 3.5 percent salary increase due in July 2009 until January 2011. In addition to the 18-month salary deferral, the union "took unpaid furlough days in exchange for a no-layoff pledge through December 2010." Although the changes saved the state money, New Jersey had to pay a 3.5 percent salary increase in July 2010 and then another 3.5 percent in January 2011 — a  two-step salary hike that raised pay by 7 percent in a single fiscal year, giving Christie a talking point he has used before.

The GOP governor also made the claim that state workers "got 7 percent salary increases in a zero percent inflation world." It is true that when Corzine renegotiated the contract in 2009 the consumer price index — the standard measure for inflation — declined that year by 0.4 percent. But it did increase in the other three years of the contract by 2.8 percent in 2007, 3.8 percent in 2008 and 1.6 percent in 2010.

Lastly, Christie misquotes a statement attributed to Corzine at a state worker rally in 2006. 

Christie: My predecessor, Governor Corzine, stood on the front steps of the Capitol at a public sector union rally and said, “I’ll fight to get you a good contract.”

Did Corzine really say that? We could not find that quote in Nexis, the newspaper database, but we found one that was somewhat similar. Paul Mulshine, a conservative columnist for the Star-Ledger, quoted Corzine as saying more than once, "We will fight for a fair contract!"

But promising state workers a "fair contract" is not necessarily the same thing as promising them a "good contract." After all, fair — as defined by Merriam-Webster — means "marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism," or "free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice," as defined by dictionary.com.