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NJ Public Workers Pay High Percentage of Health Care Costs, Analysis Says

Posted in Retiree Benefits

As reported by nj.com, a new analysis says the State’s employees pay more than the national average for state government workers toward their health insurance costs.  The analysis by NJ Spotlight notes that the cost of New Jersey’s public employee health insurance coverage remains the third-highest in the United States.  But it also shows the average New Jersey government worker pays more for individual health insurance coverage than public workers in any other state and the 10th-highest premium for family coverage in the nation.  In addition, the analysis shows New Jersey’s state and local government employees are paying a much higher percentage of the cost of their individual health insurance policies than private-sector workers in the state have been paying.

The State’s pension system, which governs the retirement and health care payments for thousands of public workers, has become one of the most controversial issues of Governor Christie’s second term.  in 2011, the Republican governor worked with Democrats to overhaul the pension system, which has been neglected by governors from both parties for years.  At the time, the NJ Spotlight analysis says, the average state worker paid just 3.6 percent of health premium costs, while some teachers, police, and local government employees were paying nothing at all.  But the reforms and Christie and lawmakers ushered in called for the State to make annual payments to the system, while workers promised to pay more into their pensions and health care costs.

As part of the overhaul, how much an employee paid toward their health care would be based on their “ability to pay”-ranging from a low of 3 percent of the premium cost for those making less than $25,000 to a high of 35 percent for those earning more than $110,000 for family coverage.  Earlier this year, though, Christie cut billions in pension payments to balance the state budget after his administration missed revenue projections.  He also said the 2011 pension reforms didn’t go far enough.

Thus, he formed a bipartisan panel of pension experts to come up with suggestions on how to solve the problem.  Last month, they released a report that said the pension system faces $90 billion in unfunded pension and health care liabilities-one of the largest gaps in the country.  The commission is expected to release a second report, with recommendations, sometime this month.  Experts expect one suggestion the panel to make is to ask current employees to pay even more into their health costs.

Democrats have said they are unwilling to consider further reforms until Christie funds the system like he promised under the 2011 overhaul.  They also accused the governor of forming the panel as political cover as he decides whether to launch a 2016 presidential bid.

How to Calculate The Amount of Available Money To Be Dispersed to A Union Under New Jersey’s 2% Salary Cap in an Interest Arbitration Proceeding

Posted in Uncategorized

CALCULATION OF THE 2% CAP

All Public Safety Law Enforcement Unions in New Jersey must have a solid understanding of the methodology in which the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (“PERC”) has interpreted how the 2% cap is to be evaluated and adhered to by an interest arbitrator. To this end, PERC has issued two decisions clarifying the same: In the Matter of Borough of New Milford and PBA Local 83 and In the Matter of Borough of Ramsey and Ramsey PBA Local 155.  At the current time, the New Milford decision is the seminal authority in delineating how an interest arbitrator must determine and/or apply the 2% cap.  In New Milford, the Borough argued that the interest arbitration award exceeded the 2% cap when all the economic factors contained in the award were included and accounted for.  Alternatively, the PBA responded that the Borough’s calculations ignored the savings it [the Borough] had realized from the retirement of several officers.

In addressing this inquiry, PERC ruled as follows:

Since an arbitrator, under the new law, is required to project costs for the entirety of the duration of the award, calculation of purported savings resulting from anticipated retirements, and for that matter costs added costs due to replacement by hiring new staff or promoting existing staff are all too speculative to be calculated at the time of the award.  The Commission believes that the better model to achieve compliance with [the 2% cap] is to utilize the scattergram demonstrating the placement on the guide of all of the employees in the bargaining unit as of the end of year preceding the initiation of the new contract, and to simply move those employees forward through the newly awarded salary scales and longevity entitlements.  Thus, both reductions in costs resulting from retirements or otherwise, as well as any increases in costs stemming from promotions or additional new hires would not effect the costing out of the award required by the new amendments…

PERC clarified its holding later in the opinion in stating:

We note that the cap on salary awards in the new legislation does not provide for the PBA to be credited with savings that the Borough receives from retirements or any other legislation that may reduce the employer’s costs.  It is an affirmative calculation based on the total 2011 base salary costs regardless of any changes in 2012.  Likewise, the PBA will not be debited for any increased costs the employer assumes for promotions or other costs associated with maintaining its workforce.

The Ramsey case reaffirmed the holding in New Milford.  In the Ramsey case, the PBA likewise contended that the arbitrator should have taken into account the retirement of a Lieutenant and two promotions in projecting salary costs.  Relying on the New Milford decision, PERC stated the following:

In New Milford, we determined that reductions in costs resulting from retirements or otherwise, or increases in costs stemming from promotions or additional new hires, should not affect the costing out of the award.  N.J.S.A. 34:13A-16.7(b) speaks only to establishing a baseline for the aggregate amount expended by the public employer on base salary items for the twelve months immediately preceding the expiration of the collective negotiations agreement subject to arbitration.  The statute does not provide for a majority representative to be credited with savings that a public employer receives from any reduction in costs, nor does it provide for the majority representative to be debited for any increased costs the public employer assumes for promotions or other costs associated with maintaining its workforce.

It must be noted that PERC’s interpretation of how the 2% cap is to be calculated has not been reviewed by the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division.

The New Milford and Ramsey cases delineate how the 2% cap is to be applied by an interest arbitrator or, for our purposes, how the same must be evaluated and/or calculated. Essentially, a baseline amount expended by the public employer on base salary items for the twelve months immediately preceding the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement between a Public Safety Union and a governmental entity must be established. In short, this “baseline” amount will be the total amount expended by the governmental entity on Union members for “base salary” items in the last year of the expired collective negotiations agreement.

Starting with this number, all Union members employed by the governmental entity on the last day of the expired agreement can be evaluated by simply “moving those employees through the guide” irrespective as to whether a certain officer retired and/or if new hires were made since that time. In short, PERC has provided this simplified model because it deemed that the evaluation of employee “breakage” is too speculative. Thereafter, it must be determined how much cost to the governmental entity is incurred when these members receive their next increment on the salary guide. After determining the cost of step movement, one must determine how much that increased cost counts towards the 2% cap and then determine what is left, if anything, to apply to an across-the-board pay increase.

While this methodology may appear to be esoteric and confusing, it is the current state of the law at this time and thus, must be followed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reviewing the “2% Cap” Under New Jersey’s Interest Arbitration Statute

Posted in Contract Interpretation, Contract Negotiations, Interest Arbitration, Public Employment Labor Law, Uncategorized

It has been quite a while since we have provided our readers with information related to the legal issues surrounding New Jersey  Public Safety Officers.  With that being said, we believe it is now very important to provide an overview or a “re-cap” of the New Jersey 2% Salary Cap under the Current Interest Arbitration Statute.  As all of you are keenly aware, having a solid understanding of this statute is vital when preparing for collective negotiations which may lead to interest arbitration.  Therefore, allow this publication to apprise you of the applicable law pertaining to the two percent (2%) salary cap.  In a future publication we will provide you with the mechanics of how to calculate the same under the current state of the law.

BACKGROUND

Suffice it to say, the imposition of the 2% cap has narrowed the focus of contract negotiations, interest arbitration proceedings, and what will be considered and ultimately awarded from an economic standpoint. Consequently, it is imperative that we are cognizant of this impact so that we may avail ourselves of the best course of action going forward and make the best arguments in support of our positions.

In order to place this overview of the law into an intelligible context, a review of the changes to the statute surrounding interest arbitration proceedings is warranted and/or appropriate.  In 2010, the New Jersey State Legislature enacted new laws regarding the interest arbitration process in the Garden State. The Legislature passed these laws on or around December 13, 2010 and the same became effective on January 1, 2011.  In simple terms, the legislation, which amended various provisions of N.J.S.A. 34:13A-16, et. seq., revised the procedure for police and fire contract disputes and imposed a cap on certain arbitration awards. According to the statement accompanying the bill, the legislation streamlines the procedure for resolving contractual impasses between public employers and their police and fire departments and imposes a 2% cap on arbitration awards under certain circumstances.

Recently, the legislation was again revised, on or about June 24, 2014. According to the statement accompanying the renewal bill, the legislation made several changes to the current law governing arbitration awards in disputes between public employers and their police and fire departments. Of particular importance, the legislation also renewed and extended the applicability of the two percent (2%) cap until December 31, 2017 and made the same retroactive to April 2, 2014.  it is important to note that the “original” two percent (2%) cap imposed by the 2010/2011 legislative changes expired on April 1, 2014. Significantly, however, the new legislation also made changes to the calculation of the two percent (2%) cap in interest arbitration proceedings going forward.

 Under the “old” two percent (2%) cap law, an arbitrator could not render an award which, on an annual basis, increases the base salary items by more than two percent (2%) of the aggregate amount expended by the public employer on base salary items for the members of the affected employee organization in the year immediately preceding the expiration of the agreement. Under the new legislation, however, after the first year of the agreement, the award cannot exceed two percent (2%) of the base salary items as annually compounded at the end of each year of the collective negotiations agreement. In simple terms, the two percent (2%) cap is now calculated on a compounded basis for each year of the agreement being arbitrated.

For our purposes, the legislation’s establishment, renewal, and revision of the two percent (2%) cap on interest arbitration awards is critical. The statute establishing the applicable version of the two percent (2%) cap reads as follows:

 An arbitrator shall not render any award pursuant to section 3 of P.L.1977, c. 85 (C.34:13A-16) which, in the first year of the collective negotiation agreement awarded by the arbitrator, increases base salary items by more than 2.0 percent of the aggregate amount expended by the public employer on base salary items for the members of the affected employee organization in the twelve months immediately preceding the expiration of the collective negotiation agreement subject to arbitration. In each subsequent year of the agreement awarded by the arbitrator, base salary items shall not be increased by more than 2.0 percent of the aggregate amount expended by the public employer on base salary items for the members of the affected employee organization in the immediately preceding year of the agreement awarded by the arbitrator.

The parties may agree, or the arbitrator may decide, to distribute the aggregate monetary value of the award over the term of the collective negotiation agreement in unequal annual percentage increases, which shall not be greater than the compounded value of a 2.0 percent increase per year over the corresponding length of the collective negotiation agreement. An award of an arbitrator shall not include base salary items and non-salary economic issues which were not included in the prior collective negotiations agreement.

 [N.J.S.A. 34:13A-16.7(b).]

Under the statute’s provisions, an arbitrator’s award on disputed “base salary” items is subject to a two percent (2%) cap, calculated on an annual, compounded basis over the term of the collective negotiations agreement governed by the award. The aggregate monetary value of the award, however, does not have to be distributed in equal annual percentages. Consequently, the monetary value of an award may exceed the two percent (2%) cap in a single contract year, however, the total monetary value of the award allocated in other contract years must be adjusted so that the aggregate value of the award over the term of the agreement does not exceed the maximum monetary award permitted under the new, compounded two percent (2%) salary cap.

An arbitrator’s award on economic issues not included in what the Legislature defined as “base salary” is not subject to the cap. Similarly, agreements arrived at through independent negotiation between the parties and agreements reached with the assistance of a mediator and/or fact finder are not subject to a contractual cap. According to N.J.S.A. 34:13A-16.7, “base salary” is defined as follows:

 …means the salary provided pursuant to a salary guide or table and any amount provided pursuant to a salary increment, including any amount provided for longevity or length of service. It also shall include any other item agreed to by the parties, or any other item that was included in the base salary as understood by the parties in the prior contract.  Base salary shall not include non-salary economic issues, pension and health and medical insurance costs.

 “Non-salary economic issues” means any economic issue that is not included in the definition of base salary.

[N.J.S.A. 34:13A-16.7(a).]

Of particular note, as highlighted above, the statutory definition of “base salary” includes the costs of the salary increments paid to members of the bargaining unit as they move through the steps on the salary guide. In other words, when a member of the bargaining unit moves to the next step of the salary guide in accordance with the collective negotiations agreement, that pay raise or “rise in cost” is considered an increase in “base salary” as contemplated by the two percent (2%) cap.

APPLICABILITY OF THE 2% CAP

Now that the two percent (2%) cap and what it includes has been adequately defined, the question then becomes which organizations are subject to the cap.  The logical starting point in addressing this inquiry is N.J.S.A. 34:13A-16.9, entitled “Effective Date.”  The statute provides:

This act shall take effect January 1, 2011; provided however, section 2 of P.L. 2010, c.105 (C.34:13A-16.7) shall apply only to collective negotiations between a public employer and the exclusive representative of a public police department or public fire department that relate to negotiated agreements expiring on that effective date or any date thereafter until or on December 31, 2017, whereupon, after December 31, 2017, the provisions of section 2 of P.L.2010, c.105 (C.34:13A-16.7) shall become inoperative for all parties except those whose collective negotiations agreements expired prior to or on December 31, 2017 but for whom a final settlement has not been reached.

[N.J.S.A. 34:13A-16.9 (emphasis added).]

According to the wording of N.J.S.A. 34:13A-16.9, the two percent (2%) cap shall only apply to: (1) collective negotiations between a public employer and the exclusive representative of a public police and/or fire department; and (2) those negotiations must relate to a negotiated agreement expiring on the effective date of the act, January 1, 2011, or any date thereafter until December 31, 2017.

In our next publication we will discuss in detail how the 2% salary cap is calculated under the current state of the law.

 

Qualifying For Accidental Disability Retirement Benefits: The Facts Matter

Posted in Uncategorized

Unfortunately, during the course of a law enforcement officer’s career, "on and off the many officers become job" and "off the job" injuries and illnesses occurred and, which ultimately lead to, disabled both on and off the job one’s inability to continue to work as a law enforcement officer. If such an officer is unable to continue his or her employment as a result of the injuries, When one faces such an unfortunate scenario, they are often left with no other alternative but to medically retire. To this end, the New Jersey pension systems covering law enforcement officers have disability retirement plans in place which that provide accidental disability retirement benefits if certain criteria is met.

If a law enforcement officer qualifies for an accidental disability retirement benefits under the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System ("PFRS"), the annual benefit will be two-thirds (2/3) of the annual compensation on which pension contributions were being made at the time of retirement or the date of the event leading to the disability, whichever is provides the greater benefit. Of critical importance, accidental disability retirement benefits are also exempt from federal income tax and not subject to New Jersey State income tax until the age of 65. Thus, accidental disability retirement benefits provide much needed economic stability for injured law enforcement officers for the duration of their lives, and provide far greater benefits than "ordinary" disability benefits.

However, notwithstanding the foregoing, and despite what some people may believe, however, accidental disability benefits are awarded only when an officer meets particular legal and factual criteria. Amongst other things, this criteria determination is often based on the factual scenario that revolves around the officer’s disabling injury. Thus consequently, describing how an accident occurred to either PFRS or an Administrative Law Judge is vitally important and often determinative as to whether or not one is awarded accidental disability pension benefits.

The criteria for obtaining accidental disability retirement benefits are well-settled. As set forth by the Supreme Court in Richardson v. Bd. of Trs., Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, in order obtain accidental disability benefits, an law enforcement officer must prove:

1. He/ or she is permanently and totally disabled;

2. The disability is the direct result of a "traumatic event" that is:

     a. Identifiable as to time and place;

     b. "Undesigned and unexpected;" and

     c. Caused by a circumstance external to the member.

3. The "traumatic event" must have occurred during and as a result of the officer’s regular or assigned duties;

4. The disability was not the result of the member’s willful negligence; and

5. The officer is physically incapacitated from performing his or her usual or any other duty.

Recently, much litigation has revolved around the meaning of the terms "undesigned and unexpected." In a recent decision in the case Brooks v. Bd. of Trs., Public Employees Retirement System, 425 N.J. Super. 277 (App. Div. 2012), the Appellate Division examined the Richardson requirement that a work-connected event must be "undesigned and unexpected" to constitute a "traumatic event." In Brooks, the Court held that an accident can be "undesigned and unexpected" under the Richardson test even though it may be concluded in retrospect that the employee/officer could have anticipated the risk of such an accident and taken steps to avoid it. In other words, an employee and/or officer’s "simple negligence," as opposed to "willful negligence," was not a disqualifying factor for an accidental disability pension.

Therefore, if a law enforcement officer undertakes a particular work related activity that is associated with his or her regular duties of employment and such an activity results in a disabling injury, he or she can be awarded accidental disability benefits even if the risk could have been anticipated by the officer. On the other hand, injuries that occur purely during the course of "regular work effort,", without any external factor causing injury, will not be "qualifying events" under Richardson for which Accidental Disability Benefits will be awarded.

So what are we really talking about here? The best way we can put it into perspective is to use an example: A police officer is chasing a suspect. While in full stride, he steps on some loose gravel, hears a "pop" and tears a ligaments in his knee. He can not return to work as a result. If the officer injures his knee while merely chasing a suspect, chances are, he may not be awarded accidental disability benefits due to the fact that because chasing a suspect is a duty expected of an officer and is part of his "regular work effort.". However, the fact that he slipped on loose gravel should be a sufficient enough "external factor" that caused the injury and takes the scenario out of the realm of "regular work effort." . What we are trying to emphasize here is that the facts matter , and often the success or failure of an application or an appeal for benefits will often turn on how the facts are portrayed by the applicant or able, competent counsel.

The Current State of the Interest Arbitration Process: A Fractured System

Posted in Interest Arbitration

In accordance with a report issued by NJ.Com, more than 40 towns and counties filed petitions to compel compulsory interest arbitration in anticipation of the expiration of what is commonly referred to as the “2% cap” law. Today, April 1, 2014, a state law in effect since 2011 that caps interest arbitration awards at 2 percent, sunsets and renewal of the same appears to be unlikely.
The State Senate and Assembly on Thursday sent Gov. Chris Christie a bill that would extend the cap until the end of 2017. The bill had slight modifications to the current law that is set to expire. However, Christie conditionally vetoed the bill, stating that it did not impose the necessary restraints on law enforcement unions to collectively bargain for wages and conditions of employment. The State Senate concurred with the Governor’s recommendations, however, the Assembly has yet to address the veto.
Based on the foregoing, various municipalities and counties filed for interest arbitration due to the fact that they believe it is unclear if the cap will apply to contracts that are under negotiation but have not yet gone into arbitration.
Under the current law, the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission is mandated to appoint an Arbitrator the following business day that a petition to compel arbitration is received. However, at this point in time, there are approximately five (5) arbitrators that sit on the special panel that has been appointed to hear these highly complex legal and economic cases. Thus, it appears evident that it will be an impossibility for arbitrator appointments to be made in accordance with the mandate. As we have all known for the past three years, the system to address an impasse regarding public safety contracts is fractured and in need of an overhaul. However, now, State Government must recognize the problems with the current law as they most likely will not be able to comply with the very same rules and regulations that they have put into place.

Legislature To Vote On Extension Of Arbitration Cap for Police, Fire

Posted in Interest Arbitration

As reported by northjersey.com, top Democratic lawmakers are rushing to extend the cap on police and firefighter pay raises that some say has helped keep property tax bills in check. But local officials say the bill expected to be voted on today in both the Assembly and State Senate includes too many loopholes to be effective.
Since 2011, raises for local police and firefighters have been limited to 2 percent if contract disputes were settled, as many are, through the State’s binding arbitration process. Statewide, the average property tax bill rose to a record $7,988 in 2013, but that rate of growth has slowed while this cap and another that limits overall increases in the local tax have been in place.
The salary cap expires on Tuesday, a deadline written into the original law as a compromise between the Democrats who control the Legislature and Governor Christie, a Republican. Before the cap was in place, unions were often given raises of around 4.5 percent. That figure is now 1.9 percent after the cap, according to a recent report issued by a task force set up to study the cap’s effectiveness.
The unions that represent police officers and firefighters working for New Jersey municipalities and counties say the cap has been too restrictive and has taken too much bargaining power away from their members, who by law aren’t allowed to go on strike. “The bill contains critical provisions that ensure that a collective bargaining unit can only be exposed to the arbitration cap law once,” the New Jersey State Policemen’s Association said in a statement.
The Democrats’ bill would extend the 2 percent cap until December 30, 2017. But it carries a key provision in the original bill that permitted governments to cap raises only once. The original bill, however, covered a period of just over three years, roughly the duration of most of the union contracts. The new bill would permit arbitrators to award raises of up to 3 percent annually if the unions agree to pay more for benefits or to cuts in the number of jobs. The measure would also change the process through which arbitrators are selected, and it would give the arbitrators themselves a pay raise.
Democratic legislative leaders say their bill strikes the right balance between the concern of the taxpayers and the unions. Republicans, meanwhile, have their own bill to extend the cap permanently. Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon said the cap on arbitration awards can’t be lifted while the broader limit on property tax increases is still in place. The Policemen’s Benevolent Association, meanwhile, said the key to the bill is not making the cap permanent. “The bill’s rejecting a permanent cap and providing more financial room for consideration are important improvements,” the organization said in its statement.
Make sure to check this blog periodically to ascertain the updates on this bill and the Legislature’s vote regarding the same.

Renewal Of Two Percent Salary Cap Bills Move Through Senate And Assembly

Posted in Interest Arbitration

As reported in the Newark Star Ledger, the New Jersey State Legislature is in the process of acting to renew the 2% Interest Arbitration Police and Fire Salary Cap. The State Assembly’s budget committee voted to approve bill (A3067), sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), that would temporarily extend an annual salary cap on interest arbitration awards. The Senate’s state government committee also approved its own version of the bill (S1869), sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester). It is expected that the bills will move the Senate and Assembly Floors this week.

In 2010, as part of Governor Christie’s self professed "tool kit" which was supposedly aimed at slowing the growth of property taxes, the Legislature enacted a 2% salary cap on interest arbitration awards. The current version of the law is set to expire on April 1, 2014. Under the proposed Assembly bill, the 2% salary cap would be extended until 2017. That’s short of the permanent cap that Gov. Chris Christie and the state League of Municipalities have called for. But it is also against the wishes of police and fire unions, who had called for the cap to be scrapped altogether.It is our understanding that the Senate bill closely mirrors the Assembly version.

In a report issued last week, unsurprisingly, a state panel tasked with examining the law was split 4-4 on whether to renew the cap. The task force was made up of four police and fire union officials, three Christie administration officials and one Republican assemblyman.

In an interview, Prieto said the bill incorporates the task force’s few unanimous recommendations: Increasing maximum pay of arbitrators from $7,500 to $10,000, giving arbitrators more time to make a decision, and giving the Public Employment Relations Commission more time to consider appeals of arbitration decisions. However, the bill will also includes some concessions to the unions, to include enlarging the cap to 3% in certain circumstances, while also allowing some unions to bargain for raises in wages without any restrictions at all.

As always, we will keep you updated as these two bills move through the Assembly and Senate.

OLS: Christie Cannot Invoke “State of Emergency” To Cut Pensions

Posted in Uncategorized

As reported by njspotlight.com, despite his threat to take “extreme measures” to control rising pension costs, Governor Chris Christie does not have the power to declare a fiscal “state of emergency” to make unilateral changes to the pension system, nor does New Jersey have the ability, like Detroit, to declare bankruptcy to get out from under its pension obligations, according to state and national authorities.

Christie warned during his annual State of the State address in January that the $600 million annual increase in state pension payments required through Fiscal Year 2018 as part of a seven-year ramp up to the actuarially required funding level was crowding out spending on education, transportation, and other policy priorities. The Governor grudgingly budgeted the $2.25 billion pension payment required for next year only after Senate President Stephen Sweeney threatened to shut down state government if he failed to do so.

Following his budget message last month, Christie warned that he had “significant powers” to rework the pension system on his own. The not-so-veiled threat was aimed at the Democratic Legislature, suggesting that if it did not pass measures to further cut pension costs, presumably by requiring further concessions from the public employee unions, Christie would act on his own.

But a review by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services concluded that the Governor’s powers under the Disaster Control Act do not give him the authority to carry out his threat because no imminent fiscal emergency exists, according to a Senate Democratic memo and an OLS analysis obtained by NJ Spotlight. Further, Christie and other governors do not have the power to declare bankruptcy to get out from under contractual obligations for pensions and retiree health benefits, as Wall Street financiers have been privately urging for years, because states, as constitutional sovereigns with taxing authority, are not covered by bankruptcy laws, the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures have concluded.

Christie’s threat aroused loud protests from the state’s unions and sent legislators scurrying to the law books. ‘With the governor threatening to unilaterally make changes to the pension system but not explaining how or what he intends to do, the Office of Legislative Services engaged in extensive discussions and review of state laws to determine any possible way the governor could act by Executive Order,” according to a Senate Democratic memo issued by Sweeney and Executive Director Kevin Drennan on March 13 that was obtained by NJ Spotlight, along with an accompanying OLS report.

“OLS’s conclusion is that he does not have any power to unilaterally make any changes because the state’s pension laws are all set by statute, including the reforms that continue to restore financial stability to the pension system,” the memo continued. “The governor can’t try to claim that the pension system’s finances are in such dire straits to constitute an emergency because OLS believes that the pension system is not in any state of emergency,” the memo said.

Union Showdown: Amato Rips DiVincenzo On Incremental Salary Issue

Posted in Uncategorized

As reported by politickernj.com, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo apparently doesn’t have to worry about a Democratic Primary opponent, but that doesn’t mean PBA Local 382 won’t refrain from criticizing the controversial Democrat in the strongest possible terms.
PBA Local 382 President Joe Amato is angry at DiVincenzo for praising corrections officers who work at the county jail and touting the jail’s fiscal health, while refusing to pay what he said were agreed-upon contractual salary increments. The local President asked his entire 550 member local and their loved ones to personally contact the Executive, who last year personally endorsed Governor Chris Christie and other county officials.
“To the executive, we are just numbers on a piece of paper that he thinks he can play with for his personal gain and opinion and I need our members to present a human face and a family unit to those numbers and our executive needs to be made to understand that these are people’s lives he’s playing with,” Amato said.
Late in 2013 the County and Local 382 entered into contract negotiations, according to Amato, who sent DiVincenzo written notice that he and his members were fully aware of the lean economic times and understood that the union’s requests in the upcoming contract negotiations would include items that present “little or no cost to the County and only asked that what was in the contract already, be retained.” In that communication, Amato said he also pointed to the jail’s successes and the deserving officers who brought about those successes who Amato says are in the very least deserving and expect to retain what was already promised to them and agreed upon by all parties. Although he received no response to his communication, Amato was confident he made his point.
“In those meetings and in any personal communication with the PBA or between PBA and County attorneys…no one from the County uttered a single word of its intent to arbitrarily break any prior agreements and withhold monies due to hundreds of correction officers and had the audacity to force the PBA to learn of this through jail/county rumor,” Amato said. “The secretive and slanted way it was done flies in the face of even a shred of decency on the County’s part and tramples on the very essence of what’s supposed to be transparent and good faith negotiation practices.”
But the local President stopped short of claiming to be too surprised, reminding members in bulletins of DiVincenzo’s past “self-centeredness and arrogance in past dealings with the PBA,” calling the executive someone “who seems to have regard only for himself and his own political aspirations with little to no regard for employees who he praises one minute when it suits his political needs and then attacks those same employees when it suits his political needs.”
DiVincenzo issued a statement in response to Amato’s criticism. “According to a recent PERC decision, it was determined that governments did not have to pay their employees increments if their union contracts had expired,” DiVincenzo said. “Essex County is in a unique position because the contracts with all of our 26 unions ended in December 2013 and we are abiding with this PERC decision.”

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