Mar 8, 2016, 3:11 pmMar 10, 2016, 1:41 pm

NJ Transit strike watch: No closure yet in negotiations between railroad, unions

Demands for lower health insurance premiums in flux; rail workers’ planned date to walk off job is this Sunday

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NJ Transit commuters are bracing for what could be a detrimental blow to the rail system as we're now just 5 days away from the planned strikes that would start Sunday.

Negotiations are still in the works between NJ Transit and its 11 rail coalitions. For the past five years, the unions have been working without a contract and are disputing the percentage of health insurance premiums employees should pay.

Union representatives have said they cannot afford to have their nearly 4,200 employees pay 10 to 20 percent of their insurance premiums despite any retroactive pay or raises they have been offered.

Without those employees coming to work, the mass transit system could be crippled starting Monday.

Gov. Chris Christie says NJ Transit has a contingency plan.

“What they need to understand, the commuters, is that the money is going to come from them. Any money I spend doesn't come from some magic place. It comes from them either in fares, or taxes, or a combination of both,” he said. “So I represent them at the table. That's what I'm going to do. I hope to come to some sort of a resolution without a strike, but if there is one, we'll be ready for one.”

Of the nearly 105,000 daily rail commuters who use NJ Transit, an estimated 40,000 could be accommodated under the contingency plan, which includes riders taking shuttles to and from New York or using beefed-up bus and ferry service.

About 65,000 rail riders would be left without a transit option.

The strike would be the first work stoppage for the agency in over three decades.

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