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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.

 

Christie’s Attempt to Dismantle the NJ Civil Service System through the Initiation of “Job Banding” is Illegal

Posted in Uncategorized

Gavel Slam

As reported in NJ.Com, a New Jersey appeals court Thursday struck down controversial changes Governor Christie’s administration unilaterally made to the state’s civil service system.  The Appellate Division on the New Jersey Superior Court stated in its decision that the state’s Civil Service Commission was wrong to push forward with the “job-banding” changes over the objections of the state Legislature, which voted numerous times to invalidate the regulations.

The ruling is a victory for the Legislature’s Democratic leaders and a pair of public-worker unions: the Communications Workers of America and the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, Local 195. All of them sued to reverse the changes.

Christie’s administration could carry on the fight by petitioning the State Supreme Court to take on the case. Leland Moore, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, said the office is “reviewing the decision” and declined further comment.

Under the rule changes made by the Christie administration, the Civil Service Commission was allowed to group some positions together as part of “job bands,” allowing managers to promote workers without the need for competitive exams. State officials said the goal was to save money and make the process more flexible.

But union leaders, Democratic lawmakers, and other critics of the Republican governor, said the new rules would open the civil service system up to the kind of political patronage, nepotism, and discrimination it was created to guard against.

The Legislature passed numerous resolutions in 2013 and 2014 to invalidate the changes, saying they violated the legislative intent of the state constitution. But the Civil Service Commission — whose members are appointed by Christie — made minor amendments each time to keep the new rules alive.

But writing for the appellate panel, Judge Douglas Fasciale said the Legislature  “validly exercised its authority” and that the commission’s amendments “consistently ignored the Legislature’s steadfast substantive objection to job banding without competitive promotional examinations.”

This is yet another decision striking down the one sided policy initiatives instituted by the Christie Administration against public employees.  Inauguration Day, 2018 can’t get here soon enough.

Agencies Barred From Unilaterally Changing Terms of Bargaining Agreement, Court Rules

Posted in Contract Negotiations, Pay and Overtime

Collective-Bargaining-Agreement-button

As reported by the New Jersey Law Journal, public employers do not have a unilateral right to change the terms of a collective bargaining agreement with their workers merely by citing an economic crisis, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

In a 6-0 ruling, the state’s highest court said a local school board, which was hit with a drastic loss in state and local funding in 2010, violated the law when it decided to impose involuntary furloughs to save money after three failed attempts to open negotiations with the town’s teachers’ union..

The court remanded the matter back to the Public Employment Relations Commission to determine whether the union members should be awarded the money they lost in salary during the furloughs.

It has been estimated that the union members together lost about $200,000 in pay because of the furloughs.

The Robbinsville Board of Education imposed the three-day furloughs for all teachers for the 2010-11 school year after it already had cut education programs, froze salaries and laid off 13 employees. The board’s moves came after the administration of Republican Gov. Chris Christie told the district its state funding would be cut by 58 percent because of financial distress, and after the township government also said local funding would be cut.

The board’s decision was upheld on summary judgment by the state Public Employment Relations Commission, which handles disputes between public agencies and public employees, and by the Appellate Division.

Both PERC and the appeals court relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Borough of Keyport v. International Union of Operating Engineers. In that decision, a divided court ruled that three local governments did not commit unfair labor practices when they developed layoff plans following the 2008 economic crisis.

In 2009, Keyport and the union entered into a collective bargaining agreement that said if there were to be layoffs, the town would respect union members’ seniority rights.

Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, writing for the court in In re Robbinsville Board of Education v. Washington Township Education Association, said the commission and the Appellate Division gave an “overly broad and mistaken reading” of Keyport, which she said involved unique circumstances.

In upholding the board’s right to impose the furloughs despite not being part of the bargaining agreement, the commission said the “decision to impose temporary furloughs in the current economic times was a non-negotiable managerial prerogative.”

LaVecchia said that PERC and the appeals court should have been guided by the court’s 1982 ruling in In re Local 195, IFPTE v. New Jersey. There, the court said there should be a three-prong test to determine if a public employer’s actions regarding its employees violated the Public Employer-Employee Relations Act.

A matter must be found to be negotiable if it “intimately and directly” impacts the work and welfare of public employees, the matter has not been preempted by statute or regulation and the negotiated agreement does not adversely affect governmental policy, the court said in Local 195.

She also quoted the court’s 2001 ruling in Troy v. Rutgers, which stated that “a decision that directly impacts the days worked and compensation for those days implicate a term and condition of employment,” making the decision “mandatorily-negotiable.”

LaVecchia noted, however, that Keyport towns that laid off employees were acting with the blessing of a temporary emergency regulation, which was issued by the state Civil Service Commission because of the national economic downturn.

“The appellate decision undervalued the lack here of an emergency regulation permitting temporary furloughs,” she said. “The regulation’s existence made all the difference in Keyport.

Keyport does not support the award of summary judgment to the board,” LaVecchia said.

LaVecchia did chide the union for refusing to negotiate with the board, saying members “disregarded their duties” despite the economic circumstances facing the board.

 

Pension Bill Requiring Quarterly Payments Heads To Christie’s Desk

Posted in Public Employment Pension Crisis

Coins falling into jam jar labelled pension.

As reported by NJ.com, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to send Governor Chris Christie a bill that will require the State to make quarterly payments to New Jersey’s ailing public worker system.  The proposal, which cleared the Senate by a 35-0 vote and the Assembly 72-0, is a reworked version of similar legislation Christie twice vetoed.  It would require the Governor to make pension payments on a quarterly basis by September 30, December 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 the State Treasury for any losses incurred if the State has to borrow money to make a payment.

The bill resembles a provision of a proposed constitutional amendment that Senate President Stephen Sweeney once back before pulling his support over concerns about the State’s ability to make the payment.  Sweeney’s reversal drew outrage from public worker unions. 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 which would have the pension fund pick up the cost of borrowing if needed may address the Governor’s concerns.

The bill’s passing was met with only a lukewarm response from the State’s largest public worker union, the Communications Workers of America, which favors a constitutional amendment to require full pension payments.  “CWA supports quarterly pension payments. However, unless the full amount due to the plan is appropriated, quarterly payments are meaningless,” Hetty Rosenstein, state director of CWA NJ, said.

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.  If Christie signs the measure, New Jersey would join California, Indiana, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania in states that have rules requiring quarterly pension payments.

Please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain updates regarding this bill.

Another Pension Bill Sits on Christie’s Desk–What Will He Do This Time?

Posted in Public Employment Pension Crisis

Pension Crisis

As reported by JT Aregood from the New Jersey Observer, just months after Senate President Steve Sweeney declined to post a bill that would have effected the change with a voter-approved constitutional amendment, Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey passed a plan to require the state to make payments into its underfunded public pension system on a quarterly instead of annual basis. Having passed with an overwhelming 35-0 majority in the State Senate and a 72-0 majority in the State Assembly, the plan will now go to Governor Chris Christie’s desk.

Christie has already vetoed the proposal twice, but Sweeney said before Monday’s vote that the governor has been more receptive to the plan in their recent conversations about the bill.

In a statement after the vote, Sweeney called the bill an important step toward funding the state’s pension obligation to workers and retirees who have paid into it themselves.

“Quarterly pension payments by themselves do not solve the state’s pension crisis but this is an important step in cutting the unfunded liability and reducing the amount of money taxpayers will have to pay into the pension system in the future,” Sweeney said in a statement. “This will help make the pension funds healthier with scheduled payments that will generate financial returns. This is about living up to our commitments but it is also the best way to serve all taxpayers.”

Sweeney’s Assembly counterpart Vince Prieto, meanwhile, reiterated his support for the shelved constitutional amendment.

“The Assembly has long supported this concept, including sending it to the voters this year for consideration,” Prieto said. “New Jersey’s public servants who have done their part deserve better than repeated broken promises, but this bill would at least represent progress toward a more fiscally responsible approach.”

Once again, Governor Christie has his opportunity to be fiscally responsible by passing this bill that will result in more accountability for State Government when it comes to funding the Public Pension System.  While we agree that quarterly payments will not necessarily result in a reduction of the unfunded liability and funding of present pension obligations, signing this bill will at least demonstrate that the Governor has an interest in addressing this problem as it will now rear its ugly head every three months.  Whether its quarterly payments, bi-annual payments or annual payments stop kicking the can down the road.  If the public employees are paying into the system the government needs to undertake its legal obligation as well.

Christie Nixes Unemployment Benefits for Striking Workers – Claims Measure Would Give Unions Added Leverage in Negotiations

Posted in Contract Negotiations

On Strike

As reported by the New Jersey Law Journal, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Nov. 14 vetoed legislation that would have broadened the ability of striking workers to collect unemployment benefits while they were off the job.

In his veto message to S2160, Christie said it was bad enough that the state’s current unemployment compensation statutes already allow for striking workers to collect benefits if their job actions do not “substantially curtail” the operation of their employers.

Christie said the bill “adds insult to injury” since its provisions were retroactive to April 10, when Verizon workers went on strike across the United States.

About 40,000 Verizon workers went on strike in April, and approximately 4,600 of those were in New Jersey. They returned to work in June after reaching a contract agreement with the communications giant.

“The unemployment compensation law should not be used as a tool to give labor organizations added leverage in labor negotiations,” Christie said. “Signing this bill would compromise not only the integrity of the unemployment compensation law but also the availability of funds for individuals who do not have the option to return to their jobs.”

Christie added that since he took office, he has been able to turn a $2.1 billion deficit in the Unemployment Trust Fund to surplus of $1.9 billion.

He suggested that the Legislature should instead amend the current law to bar any striking worker from receiving unemployment benefits.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester.

“The governor’s action is disappointing and a disservice to New Jersey workers who are forced to strike as a last resort in their pursuit of fair compensation and treatment during a labor dispute,” Vitale said in a statement. “His conditional veto not only guts the intent of the bill, but it leaves individuals vulnerable to poor employment practices.”

The bill passed both houses of the Legislature in votes split along party lines.

Blue Justice Podcast #01 (Negotiating Collective Bargaining Agreements)

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

Time for some negotiation-education! In our very first episode of the Blue Justice Podcast, Frank Crivelli explains why experience is so important when it comes to collective bargaining and negotiating a union’s contract. We plan on posting a new podcast on a regular basis, every other week or so, so please check back periodically for new content. Like our blog, the Blue Justice Podcast will cover issues affecting public safety officers and labor unions, primarily throughout the state of New Jersey, particularly as it relates to the law. We hope you enjoy (or at least learn a thing or two…)!

New Bloomberg Report Casts Dim Light on NJ’s Pension System

Posted in Public Employment Pension Crisis, Retiree Benefits

Coins falling into jam jar labelled pension.

As reported by N.J.com, New Jersey’s distressed government worker pension system is now the worst funded in the U.S., according to a report by Bloomberg.

The Garden State’s public pension fund has languished near the bottom, but has now dropped below Kentucky and Illinois for last place, according to the report.

Their analysis compared the states’ funding ratios, or their assets in relation to their pension debt.

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’s state and local pension funds had slightly more than $217 billion in liabilities and $81.4 billion in assets, leaving it with $135.7 billion in unfunded liabilities, up from $113.1 billion as of July 1, 2014.

Kentucky’s funding ratio is 37.8 percent and Illinois’ 40.2 percent, according to Bloomberg, which also reported the median state funding ratio is 74.5 percent.

New Jersey, Bloomberg said, is “among states whose retirement systems slipped further behind as rock-bottom bond yields and lackluster stock-market gains caused investment returns to fall short of targets.

The state’s pension system assumes long-term investment returns of 7.9 percent, but it has fallen short the past two fiscal years. 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.

The public worker pension funds’ returns last year were among the worst of large public pension funds — those with at least $10 billion in assets, according to Treasury Department data. The funding estimates, however, do not account for these more recent results.

Years of underfunding have also weakened the pension system. The state contributes much less than is recommended by actuaries to keep up with the piling obligations.

A state law designed to force the state to gradually ramp up to that full actuarial payment was invalidated by the state Supreme Court. Gov. Chris Christie has gradually increased payments, and the state will contribute $1.86 billion this year — 40 percent of what’s recommended by actuaries.

Public worker unions are seeking a constitutional amendment next year requiring the state make increasing contributions into the pension system.

Some funds within the system that receive contributions from local governments, including the fund for police and firefighters, are better off than those that rely on state contributions.

A Treasury Department spokesman, Joe Perone, said Wednesday that “Regardless of the state’s rank, New Jersey will need further public worker benefits reforms …  so it can improve upon its liabilities. If additional health care and pension cost reforms were enacted, the liability would drop considerably and our public benefit costs would be affordable and sustainable.”

Bill Limiting Solitary Confinement in New Jersey State Prisons is Another Bad Idea

Posted in Uncategorized

Prison

As reported in NJ.Com, a bill strictly limiting the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey’s prisons is headed to Governor Chris Christie’s desk after being passed by the State Assembly.  The bill requires prisons and jails to use solitary confinement only as a last resort, restricting its use to 15 consecutive days or 20 days in a two-month period.  The bill was passed by the New Jersey Legislature by a vote of 45 to 26 with one abstention.

The measure is part of a national movement to limit or ban solitary confinement, which prison reform advocates and some mental health experts say can do permanent psychological damage if an inmate is kept in isolation too long.  However, it is painfully clear that the advocates of this bill have little interest in taking into consideration the orderly operation of correctional institutions that will ensure the safety of custody staff, civilian staff, and, ultimately, the inmates themselves.  The debate over the merits of disciplinary detention, which has been more broadly referred to by social scientists as “solitary confinement,” has been repeatedly discussed since modern civilizations have been incarcerating non-law abiding citizens.  With this being said, empirical evidence that has been collected by social scientists over the last one hundred (100) years has failed to yield conclusive results that disciplinary detention has a long lasting deleterious effect on inmate mental and/or physical health.

Instead of bowing to the demands of the various inmate advocacy groups that lack empirical credibility, the New Jersey Legislature, and hopefully the Governor, should instead be reviewing the effectiveness of disciplinary detention as a penal management tool. Common sense dictates and corrections’ researchers and practitioners confirm that prison order and safety amongst inmates and staff is imperative in the successful operation of a prison.  Many penologists have opined that the best way to manage difficult prisoners that refuse to conform to institutional rules and regulations should be to separate and segregate them from the general prison population.  Many professionals further believe that the utilization of solitary confinement is the optimal tool to ensure staff and inmate safety as it separates those inmates that are known to be violent, assaultive, escape risks, or otherwise disruptive to the general population. Safety of custody staff, civilian staff, and the inmates themselves should be paramount in the operation of the penal institutions within the state of New Jersey. It is for these reasons that the Legislature and the Governor need to truly examine the social impact that the proposed legislation will have on its employees, its inmates as a collective group, and society in general.

Troopers Start Wearing Body Cams

Posted in Uncategorized

Body Cameras

As reported by NJ.com, troopers at three State Police stations began patrolling with body-worn cameras this weekend as the Division prepares to outfit every officer on the road with the technology. Uniformed troopers assigned to Bordentown, Bellmawr, and Red Lion stations turned on their cameras on Saturday as part of an “initial deployment program,” according to a State Police spokesman.

The rollout of body camera technology at New Jersey’s largest police force comes amid a climate of national scrutiny of police practices. The Division was among the first police forces in the state to use dashboard cameras, in part due to federal oversight for racial profiling. “Attaching the cameras to our troopers will us more information in a variety of locations,” Col. Rick Fuentes, the Superintendent of the State Police, said in a statement. “They will help protect troopers and the public by creating an objective record of our interactions.”

About 200 of the State’s more than 500 police agencies use body cameras in some capacity, according to the State Attorney General’s Office, which has encouraged their use through a series of grants meant to defray their costs and a new directive outlining rules for their use.  But the push has seen criticism both from the unions representing troopers who objected to the Attorney General’s new rules and from civil liberties advocates who say state authorities have curtailed public access to the footage.

New Jersey’s body camera program is paid for through state forfeiture funds. The U.S. Department of Justice also recently announced federal funds for several New Jersey agencies, including the State Police, Newark, Camden, Evesham, and Haledon. The cameras will capture audio and video with a wide-angle lens attached to the front of the trooper’s uniform and will be activated at the start of any interaction with the public, authorities said, including traffic stops, accidents, calls for service and criminal investigations.

State Police officials declined to disclose how many troopers at the three stations are currently outfitted with body cameras, but the DOJ grant indicates they intend to use federal funds to outfit 1,575 uniformed officers. The Division has a total of 2,600 sworn members.

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