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Atlantic City Firefighters Won’t Face Layoffs — for now

Posted in Public Employment Labor Law

AC Fire Truck

As reported by Philly.com, a New Jersey judge temporarily blocked the state Friday from laying off firefighters in Atlantic City, but ruled that their work schedules, salaries, and overtime can be changed by former U.S. Sen. Jeffrey S. Chiesa (R., N.J.), who is directing the state takeover of Atlantic City.

The firefighters union had sued to stop layoffs and changes to its contract.

In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez said the state’s proposal to cut 100 firefighters — reducing the total to 125 — would compromise public safety. But Mendez concluded a smaller number of layoffs would be justified, given the city’s “serious economic distress.”

“A reduction to 180 would be more than reasonable,” he wrote.

The state takeover law, the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act, gives Trenton broad powers in Atlantic City — including amending contracts with public employees — to try to stabilize the city’s finances.

Mendez said that Chiesa, under that act, has “broad, extensive, and unilateral powers in order to achieve financial stability for Atlantic City” — but that he can’t base decisions only on cost savings, particularly when it comes to public safety.

Mendez said that before the litigation, Chiesa had offered few reasons as to why Atlantic City should have 125 firefighters, as opposed to another number. The union had argued having that fewer firefighters would leave the city undermanned.

Atlantic City’s full-time population is nearly 40,000, but it can swell to 165,000 with visitors and commuters.

In a statement Friday, Bill Dilorenzo, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 198, slammed the idea of layoffs.

“If you’re trying to increase the number of visitors to Atlantic City and improve its perception as a family destination, why in the world would you make these types of drastic cuts to public safety?” he said.

The state applauded Mendez’s ruling.

“We appreciate Judge Mendez’s thoughtful decision and are very pleased that our authority under the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act was recognized,” said Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs. “We look forward to continuing to have discussions with the city’s firefighters, which is something we’ve wanted to do all along.”

She added: “In order for Fire Department savings to be realized, we must act now, because further delays imperil our ability to achieve a balanced city budget without requiring greater sacrifices by Atlantic City taxpayers, many of whom are homeowners and small-business owners who are already overburdened by property taxes.”

In his ruling, Mendez bluntly described the tension between the state and Atlantic City officials.

“The tenor of this case has so far been hostile at best,” Mendez wrote, “with the parties utilizing terms such as ‘greedy’ and phrases such as ‘robbing the candy store’ to describe one another’s actions.”

Indeed, at a news conference early Friday afternoon, Mayor Don Guardian found another word to describe Trenton officials: “Snakes.”

“This is a fight between the governor of this state and the people of this state,” Guardian said. He added: “Let’s find the money we need.”

NJ Supreme Court Hears Argument Over Government Imposed Salary Freeze

Posted in Contract Negotiations, Pay and Overtime

Supreme Court

 

As reported by N.J.com, public employee unions and government officials clashed Monday in a case before the state Supreme Court that could determine whether workers across New Jersey will get pay raises.

The state’s highest court heard oral arguments over the whether “step” increases — increases in pay when workers reach annual milestones in years of service — should be granted after a contract has expired.

Atlantic County, Bridgewater Township and the Public Employment Relations Commission asked the court to reverse an appellate court ruling, which found PERC overstepped its authority when it upended a four-decades-old doctrine that says step increases outlive the term of a contract.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 34 and Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 77 charged Atlantic County with unfair labor practices, alleging the county violated that “dynamic status quo” doctrine during contract negotiations and arbitration.

Police officers who were not yet at the top of the pay scale were due 5 percent or 6 percent step increases.

PERC dismissed the unions’ charges, rejecting a policy it said no longer reflected the economic landscape or the challenges local governments face in complying with state-imposed 2 percent caps on tax levy hikes.

The appellate court said, “Concerns regarding budgets are not a primary consideration when the agency safeguards the rights of public employees,” and that “PERC’s abandonment of the dynamic status quo doctrine was action outside the scope of its legislative mandate.”

That panel also slapped PERC in a dispute out of Bridgewater in which it deemed automatic salary increases during a lapse in contracts could no longer be negotiated or arbitrated.

The dynamic status quo doctrine has been applied to step increases since 1975. PERC said it created a level playing field for negotiations.

Now, said David Rapuano, who argued against the automatic step increases, the doctrine has an effect opposite to the one intended: contract negotiations are more difficult and unions have a disincentive to quickly settle labor disputes.

A passage in the contracts that reads “All provisions of this agreement will continue in effect until a successor agreement is negotiated,” proved a sticking point for the justices.

Rapuano said PERC didn’t recognize that any language in the contracts that would require increment payments after they expired.

Justices Barry Albin and Jaynee LaVecchia questioned PERC’s decision to apply the policy reversal to contracts that were already negotiated and implemented.

PERC’s decision altered the playing ground of negotiations “suddenly and unexpectedly after 40 years,” LaVecchia said. “Doesn’t that deserve prospective notice to parties?”

Rapuano argued PERC’s reversal did not upset any existing contracts, rather it changed the period after a contract runs out.

In effect, LaVecchia asked, hasn’t “PERC has become a player, a thumb on the scale” in contract negotiations?

Rapuano disagreed.

“Actually no. I think it finally took its hand off the negotiations. I think the dynamic status quo was the thumb.”

State employees lodged a similar complaint against Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, which similarly froze salaries for tens of thousands of workers whose contracts expired.

A union win in this case would affect every state and local public employee in New Jersey, said Ira Mintz, who represented the police unions before the court.

Patrick Colligan, president of the state Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said “If (the justices) follow all the case law and all the labor law and all the PERC decisions from the past 40 years, they will make a decision that is favorable to us,” he said.

 

Sweeney Introduces Bill Seeking to Wrest Control of PFRS Away from State Treasury

Posted in Public Employment Pension Crisis

Coins falling into jam jar labelled pension.

As reported by N.J.com, furious after watching pension investment fees triple over the last three years even as their funds lost value, police and firefighter union leaders are seeking to wrest control of their underfunded pensions from the state.

As Gov. Chris Christie is set to deliver his final budget address, state Senate President Sweeney (D-Gloucester) on Monday introduced a bill (S3040) that would transfer management of the Police and Firefighters Retirement System to a newly expanded board of trustees.

“They’ve been screwing up pensions for decades now,” Ed Donnelly, president of the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association told NJ Advance Media, referring to the $11 billion that the state has yet to pay into his retirement system.

Since Christie’s reelection, state worker pension fees have soared, but as a newly released actuary report shows, in the last fiscal year the market value of PFRS assets dropped 6 percent. In the last fiscal year, police and fire retirement system’s value went from 70.5 percent fully funded to 64.4 percent.

By comparison, the S&P 500 index has returned 17.5 percent in the last year.

The proposed legislation would give uniformed first responders greater voice and tilt control over those assets away from the state treasurer’s office and towards union members.

Sweeney’s bill would transfer the management of the police and firefighters unions from the state treasury’s pensions and benefits division and award it to an expanded 12 member board of trustees whose balance of power favors union members by a ratio of 7 to 5.

The union side of the board would include:

  • one police officer appointed by the president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association
  • one police officer appointed by the president of the New Jersey State Fraternal Order of Police
  • one firefighter from the appointed by the president of the New Jersey State Firemans’ Mutual Benevolent Association
  • one firefighter appointed by the president of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey
  • one retiree from the system elected by retirees of the PFRS system

Meanwhile, the governor would appoint five trustees in total; four from local governments and one from state government.

“It’s really about taking the politicians out of the equation,” said Fred Beaver, who was director of pensions at the state treasury from 2002 to 2010.

Now a consultant to the NJ State Firefighters Benevolent Association, Beaver said that while the new board’s structure would seem to favor unions, Christie was likely to support it since his own pensions task force had recommended as much in 2015.

Two years ago, the state pension and health benefit study commission recommended that New Jersey “transfer the assets, liabilities and risks of the existing pension and new retirement plans to employee entities willing and able to assume this obligation.”

It also urged the state to “allow those who receive the benefits to have the power and assume the risk of managing the plans to ensure that the available funds are sufficient to pay for the provided benefits.”

A spokesman for Christie did not respond to an inquiry by NJ Advance Media about whether the governor might back the legislation.

Sweeney, in a statement emailed to NJ Advance Media, said giving the union’s agency over their own destiny would produce better results.

“This practice has been effective with private-sector unions so we know that it works,” wrote Sweeney in an email to NJ Advance Media. “Their returns actually improved when they took control. When the investment strategies are their own, the unions will make sure they make the best decisions for their members.”

Under the proposed legislation, the police and fire unions would also obtain broad discretion over both the size of members retirement benefits and the contributions needed to support them.

An early draft of the legislation reviewed by NJ Advance Media allowed that the board may “enhance…or modify any benefit as an alternative to an increase in the member contribution rate.”

It also allows for the board to “reinstate, when appropriate, such reduced benefit to the statutory level without an additional contribution by the member.”

Beaver said this would be a welcome change for unions who’ve seen state contributions held hostage to the whims of the budget.

“In the past, the support of the board went as far as the treasurer wanted it to go,” said Beaver.

Christie has said he’ll make a record $2.5 billion pension payment in his final year, but that’s only half the most recent actuarial recommendation.

NJ Budget To Include Full Scheduled Pension Payment

Posted in Public Employment Pension Crisis

Pension Crisis

As reported by NJ.com, Governor Christie said his last budget proposal that will be revealed later this month will include a pension payment that meets the promised contribution schedule.  To this end, Christie said the payment will be a $650 million increase over last.  At that time, Christie proposed a $1.86 billion payment to the declining government worker pension system that he ultimately approved in the final budget sent to him by lawmakers.

“Yeah,” Christie responded when “Ask the Governor” host Eric Scott asked whether this year’s budget would include the full scheduled payment for the year.  Christie is scheduled to give his final budget address on February 28.  “It is a challenge,” Christie said. He was referring to the ballooning pension payment weighed against the other spending priorities for the State.

The Governor said he’s “85 percent done” with the proposed budget and doesn’t “think they’ll be any bug surprises.”  But when Scott asked if pension and health benefit reform or school funding reform would work its way into the budget, Christie responded: “Could be. Stay tuned”

Last year, Christie announced he would contribute $1.86 billion into the pension system.  The proposed payment was the largest in New Jersey history, but also just 40 percent of what actuaries recommended. The Governor ultimately signed the $34.8 billion budget lawmakers sent him that closely resembled his original proposal, including the $1.86 billion pension payment.

Please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain updates regarding the proposed pension payment.  As we know, the amount of the pension payment has spawned legal challenges in the past and has a direct impact upon all New Jersey Public Safety Officers.

New Bill Proposes $2 Room Surcharge at A.C. Hotels to Avoid Police and Firefighter Layoffs

Posted in Public Employment Labor Law

AC Police

As reported by N.J.com, guests at Atlantic City hotels may soon see a new $2 surcharge on their room bills to help avoid police and firefighter layoffs in the financially struggling seaside gambling resort.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto on Tuesday proposed a bill that would temporarily charge hotels in the city a $2 tax or fee to help avoid layoffs that Gov. Chris Christie’s administration seeks in the city’s public safety department in the ongoing state takeover of the local government.

Under the measure (A4556), the tax would last for two years and proceeds would be used exclusively to help fund the city’s public safety.

“I was adamant that any state takeover of Atlantic City not involve, among other things, police and firefighter layoffs that would threaten public safety and the city’s efforts to market itself as a safe and family-friendly destination, but not everyone agreed,” Prieto (D-Hudson) said in a statement.

“The harsh reality is now setting in, sadly, but I will not stand idle and allow police and firefighter layoffs to harm public safety for residents while also hurting the public’s ability to feel confident about visiting the city. Atlantic City must remain successful for the betterment of the entire state.”

Prieto’s office did not immediately have an estimate of how much the legislation would raise each year.

But by comparison, the city’s Casino Redevelopment Authority charges hotels a $3-per-room fee, which raised $11.8 million in 2005.

The city has been rocked by five casinos closing in recent years, and Christie’s administration moved in November to seize control of key functions of city hall — including the ability to break union contracts and hire and fire employees.

Public safety unions are expecting the Republican governor to seek deep cuts in police and fire.

Christie’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

But Jeff Albrecht, the chairman of Meet AC, the city’s convention bureau, told the Press of Atlantic City that he is skeptical of the idea, noting that city hotels already pay state, luxury, casino, occupancy, and promotion taxes and fees.

Meet AC commissioned a study last year that show Atlantic City hotels already carry some of the highest room taxes in the nation.

“We would tell the state or whomever, that all businesses should be included, not just hospitality,” Albrecht told the newspaper. “Tourism is the number one economic-driver, not just for Atlantic City, but the entire county. … If we don’t do more to stimulate and protect it, we are all going to lose.”

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/prieto-proposes-hotel-room-fee-to-pay-for-atlantic-city/article_c9b1b7ee-0cdc-5acb-bb24-425aa55ce253.html

Intelligence Sharing Agreement Between Obama and Cuba Fails to Include the Return of Convicted NJ Fugitive that Murdered a NJ State Trooper

Posted in Uncategorized

NJSP.2

As reported in NJ.COM, The head of the New Jersey State Police, Colonel Rick Fuentes, renounced an agreement struck between the Obama administration and Cuba to share information on international criminal activity because it did not require the return of convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard.

Some Republicans also renounced the deal partly because of objections to sharing sensitive information with the Castro regime and because it did not require the island nation to extradite high-profile U.S. fugitives it has been harboring.

Chesimard, who goes by Assata Shakur and was convicted for the 1973 killing of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster.  Chesimard later escaped prison and fled to Cuba, where she holds asylum status and maintains her innocence.

In a statement released on Thursday, Colonel Fuentes, who for years has led the campaign for Chesimard’s return to serve her murder sentence, expressed “bewilderment and confusion” at the agreement.  The colonel criticized the deal for not requiring the return of Chesimard as well as fugitives Victor Luis Gerena, Charlie Hill and William Guillermo Morales.

“Their omission from this agreement and from the negotiations-at-large is so glaring as to signal a clear intent by the Obama administration to ignore these fugitives,” Fuentes said.

“By burning the last bridge to this administration’s opportunity to gain their negotiated return, families who have long suffered the consequences of their terrorist acts and law enforcement everywhere in this country have been shown the back of the hand.”

One last striking blow by the Obama Administration in its treatment of Law Enforcement Officers.

USDOT States that Painting a “Thin Blue Line” in between a Double Yellow Highway Dividing Line is Illegal

Posted in Uncategorized

Blue Line

As reported in NJ.Com, the U.S. Department of Transportation has opined that painting blue lines in between double yellow highway dividing lines is an unsafe practice and must therefore be removed.  In October, many New Jersey towns painted blue lines in the middle of downtown roads to show support for law enforcement.  The support at that time came in the wake of unprecedented attacks that were being perpetrated on law enforcement officers throughout the United States.

One New Jersey County asked The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration to weigh in on the legality of the practice.  In response, the USDOTFHA stated that “There are many appropriate and fitting ways to recognize service to the public that do not involve the modification of a traffic control device, which can put the road user at risk due to misinterpretation of its meaning,”  This opinion came from a December 8 letter from the Federal Highway Administration to the Somerset County Engineering Division who inquired about the practice.

“The use of blue lines as part of centerline markings does not comply with the provisions of the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways),” the letter states.  The USDOTFHA says the space in between the double yellow lines should remain empty. In certain cases, black paint can be used “where a light-colored pavement does not provide sufficient contrast with the markings,” the MUTCD states.

It is our understanding that when towns first started painting the blue lines on county roads, local officials said they did so only after receiving permission from the county.  There has been no response from either the County of Somerset or the Towns that have painted the roads as to whether they will remove the “thin blue line” that has been painted in-between the double yellow.

In the area of New Jersey where I am from, the center of a double yellow line is painted to mark a parade route twice a year.  It is painted green in March for the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and then adorns the colors of the Italian flag in October to commemorate Columbus Day.  This has been going on for as long as I can remember.  The colors remain on the road for months; and as far as I know there are no complaints from either citizens, the Towns, nor the County.

However, I find it interesting that when the center of a double yellow line is painted blue to honor our Law Enforcement Officers we now learn that such actions are in essence “illegal” and should be deemed a safety concern.  Really?

As we sit back on National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, I want to thank each and every Law Enforcement Officer for all that they do each day of the year to keep me and my family safe.  As I travel the State of New Jersey today representing many of these Officers I hope I see more of the thin blue lines on our roadways as a reminder to America’s citizens of  the service these brave men and women provide to us on a daily basis.

Correction Officers Renew Calls for Better Workers’ Compensation After Brutal Attack

Posted in Sick Leave Injury Benefits

logo-local105_0

As reported by NJ.com, the recent brutal attack on a State Correction Officer at East Jersey State Prison has union officials calling for the passage of a bill that would make compensation similar to that of police officers and firefighters injured on duty.

On the morning of December 31, Daniel Campione, a Correction Officer at the prison, was escorting inmates back to their cells and securing the cells when an inmate “began to verbally abuse” Campione.  The inmate ultimately charged the officer and began “hitting him in his head with a closed fist,” according to a statement released from the Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 105 (“P.B.A. #105”), which represents New Jersey’s rank-and-file correction officers. Correction officers in the area responded and gained control of the inmate.

Campione was treated at the prison for “numerous contusions and lacerations on his head and face.”  He was then taken to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in Rahway for further treatment.  He is expected to recover from his injuries, officials said, but will be unable to work for an unknown period of time.

P.B.A. #105 President Brian Renshaw said, “Attacks like the one we saw…are becoming all too common in New Jersey’s state prisons.” Renshaw is now calling for the passage of a bill introduced two years ago to ensure officers “will not be asked to receive anything less than full pay for injuries suffered at the hands of inmates inside our prisons,” the statement said.  According to the Union, passing the bill would give correction officers similar compensation to that of state and local police officers injured while on duty.

Currently, prison and juvenile detention workers must apply for workers’ compensation when injured on the job, the union said “making significantly less than their regular salary.”  Renshaw added, “It is my hope that the New Jersey Legislature will fully understand what is at risk when deciding on how to act on this legislation.”

Christie Signs Bill Mandating Quarterly Pension Payments by State

Posted in Public Employment Pension Crisis

Pension Crisis

As reported by NJ.com, Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday signed a bill that will require the state to make quarterly payments to New Jersey’s ailing public worker pension system.

The bill is a reworked version of a measure Christie twice vetoed.

The new law will require governor to make pension payments on a quarterly basis by Sept. 30, Dec. 31, March 31 and June 30 of each year, instead of at the end of the fiscal year in June. In exchange, the pension fund would reimburse state treasury for any losses incurred if the state has to borrow money to make a payment.

State lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last month to approve the measure. It cleared the state Senate by a 35-0 vote and the state Assembly 72-0.

The legislation (S2810) resembled a provision of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required the state to make a full pension payment suggested by actuaries each year.

However, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who pushed the amendment, pulled his support for it over concerns about the state’s ability to make the payment which drew outrage from public worker unions.

On Thursday, Sweeney said making pension quarterly pension payments “will provide greater stability to state finances, produce ongoing savings for the taxpayers and help make the pension funds more secure.m A scheduled timetable for making the already-required payments will help correct the costly and irresponsible mistakes of the past when contributions were delayed, deferred or ignored altogether.”

In his 2014 veto of the bill, Christie called it “an improper and unwarranted intrusion upon the longstanding executive prerogative to determine the appropriate timing of payments” so those expenditures line up with tax collection cycles.

But the change in the bill to have the pension fund pick up the cost of borrowing if needed may address the governor’s previous concerns.

Hetty Rosenstein, state director Communications Workers of America, praised the bill, but stressed she’s focused on demanding the state make full payments.

“CWA supports quarterly pension payments,” she said. “However, unless the full amount due to the plan is appropriated, quarterly payments are meaningless. History shows we simply cannot rely on the word of the governor or Legislature when it comes to the pension.”

Last month, the state’s credit rating dropped for a record 10th time during Christie’s administration.

Standard and Poor’s Global Ratings lowered the state’s rating from “A” to “A-“. The move comes after the rating agency revised its outlook for New Jersey from stable to negative over concerns with the declining pension funding levels and rising retirement liabilities.

Decades of underfunding have weakened the pension system, as have more recent poor investment returns. The fund lost 0.87 percent in the fiscal year that ended in June, based on unaudited figures, and investment returns in the year before were 4.16 percent.

As of July 1, 2015, New Jersey’s state and local pension funds have just 37.5 percent of the funding it needs to pay for future benefits. That is based on new reporting standards that require the state to project lower investment returns and had bleak consequences for the state’s estimates.

New Jersey joins California, Indiana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania in states that have rules requiring quarterly pension payments.

Christie Signs Bill Allowing Retired Officers to Provide Security for NJ Schools

Posted in Contract Negotiations, Public Employment Labor Law

School Cop

As reported by N.J.com, specially trained retired police officers may be hired to provide security for public and private schools and community colleges in New Jersey under a bill Gov. Chris Christie signed into law Wednesday.

The governor conditionally vetoed an earlier version of the legislation two months ago because it did not require these “special law enforcement officers” to undergo “specialized training covering security issues that routinely arise in the school setting.”

“It is vital to ensure that the officer in integrated into the unique setting of a school community and is properly trained to function not only as a safety expert and law enforcer, but also as a liaison to community resources, educators and counselors,” Christie said in that conditional veto message.

The bill’s sponsors made the changes Christie sought. The bill (S86) was approved by the state Senate in October and by the Assembly on Nov. 21.

 “Having trained, experienced officers in schools creates a safer environment for students and staff by deterring criminals from committing acts of violence,” state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris) said, one of the bill’s sponsors. “I’m happy we could work together on this issue and make our schools safer for everyone.”

The bill was first introduced after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn. four years ago.

These armed “class III special officers” must be under 65 years old and undergo the requisite training, according to the bill. They may work no more than 20 hours a week, and are not entitled to health or pension benefits for their service.

They would not replace school resource officers, who are specially trained full-time police officers stationed at some schools. However, as noted in our September blog covering the earlier version of this bill, it is yet to be seen whether these new positions will cut into future jobs regularly assigned to active police officers.

The legislation was sought after by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti, the association’s president, thanked the governor and lawmakers for getting the law passed.

 “Nothing is more important than the safety of our children, and we strongly believe that this law gives our state an important new tool in providing a safer environment for our school kids, our teachers, and everyone else who works at or visits schools and community colleges in our state,” Parenti said in a statement.

 

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