NJ Public Employee Retirement On the Rise


As reported by nj.com, more than 20,000 police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other public employees put in their retirement papers last year as momentum was building for sweeping health and pension reform in Trenton, state figures show. That is a 60 percent jump from 2009 retirements and the highest in at least a decade, according to the Division of Pension and Benefits.

Under nearly all the reform proposals circulating in Trenton, public employees would pay more for pension and health benefits, but would escape the additional costs if they retire before the reforms were enacted. “There has been a direct assault on the benefits that public employees have earned and fought for over the last 40 years,” said Dominick Marino, president of the state chapter of the International Association of Firefighters. “People were attracted to these jobs because of the certainty, now there is no certainty, and people are retiring.”

While those who put in retirement papers can opt to stay, the vast majority retire, officials say. Of the 20,327 public employees who put in for retirement, more than half were state and local workers. Specifically, retirement among police and firefighters swelled by 45 percent. Overall, 7,132 teachers retired last year. In the decade before, no more than 4,872 teachers called it quits in any given year, records show.

Pension and health benefit reform will be high on the agenda in Trenton this spring. Governor Chris Christie wants all public employees, state and local, to begin paying 30 percent of their health insurance premiums starting next fiscal year. Currently, public employees are required to pay at least 1.5 percent of their salary toward health benefits.

Christie has warned that if Democratic lawmakers refuse to go along with his proposal, or a similar plan, he would not be able to deliver an additional $190 million in property tax relief to seniors and middle-to-low income residents. State Senator Stephen Sweeney wants to phase in the increases over seven years and apply the rates on a sliding scale based on a employee’s salary. Under Christie’s plan, a teacher who makes a $66,000 salary would pay about $5,200 a year for health insurance. Under Sweeney’s plan, the same teacher would pay about $3,610.

In general, public employees with 25 years of service can retire and receive medical benefits at no cost, but that would change under both Sweeney’s and Christie’s plan. Current retirees, including those who retire before any proposal is enacted, would be protected from the changes. However, Christie has suggested he is willing to make some adjustments retroactive, even if it prompts a legal challenge.

Democratic Leaders Propose Cap on Police and Fire Raises


As reported on November 23, 2010, New Jersey’s Democratic leaders announced they are offering compromise legislation to Republican Governor Chris Christie that would allow pay hikes for police and firefighters achieved through arbitration to exceed two (2) percent for a year, as long as they remain within two (2) percent over the period of a contract. Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver unveiled the proposal at the Statehouse and said it also calls for the cap to be removed after three years, the average length of police and firefighter contracts, to allow the State to gauge its effectiveness.

Shortly after, Gov. Christie, who wants a flat annual 2 percent cap for police and firefighters salary increases, described the legislation as “watered down” and threatened to veto any Democratic version of legislation designed to hold down property taxes if he decided it is not “real reform.” Christie has introduced a 33-bill “tool kit” to lower property taxes and the Democrats who control the Legislature are offering their own versions. Any compromises are expected to be worked out before legislators adjourn for the year-end holidays.

The Sweeney-Oliver legislation would require pay for longevity, length of service, salary increments and other similar compensation to be included in the 2 percent cap. It would also require all contracts that expire in the three-year window to adhere to the cap, to prevent the purposeful stalling of contract negotiations. The proposal would also change the process for selecting an arbitrator for interest arbitration and change the process by which judgments are appealed.

Please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain any updates regarding any and all legislation pertaining to police and firefighters.

Judge Powerless to Prevent Newark Police, Fire Department Layoffs


As reported in the Star Ledger on November 10, 2010, hundreds of Newark city police officers, firefighters, and civilian employees, barring a last-minute reprieve, will be laid off on Friday, November 12, 2010 after a judge dismissed a lawsuit aimed at blocking the city’s cost-cutting measures.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Costello told lawyers for the unions filing suit that she did not have the authority to issue a temporary stay to prevent 167 city police officers, 24 firefighters, and several hundred civilian employees from losing their jobs. While the Judge appeared sympathetic to the plaintiff’s claim that layoffs might adversely affect public safety and that the city had not engaged in meaningful negotiations, she said only the state Civil Service Commission can hear such a request.

Judge Costello also voiced frustration that the Commission, which had earlier approved the city’s layoff plan, is now one member short of the minimum needed to hold another hearing. “While the case law is completely clear, it’s hollow if the CSC is not meeting,” she said of the Commission, which is a defendant in the lawsuit along with Newark Mayor Cory Booker. The Appellate Division, however, can rule on the request for a temporary stay, Judge Costello said, and can issue a decision itself or return the case to her with that authority.

Facing an $83 million deficit, the Newark City Council approved the mayor’s budget last month, which includes a total of 866 layoffs and a 16 percent property tax hike. The Commission had earlier approved the city’s layoff plan and deemed an earlier appeal “not ripe” until the layoffs occur.

It is expected the unions will be filing a similar request for a temporary injunction with the Appellate Division. Therefore, please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain any updates that become available.

Lawmakers Fail to Reach Agreement Regarding Police and Fire Raises


As reported in the Trentonian on October 19, 2010, New Jersey lawmakers failed to reach an agreement with the Governor’s office over how to ensure that police and firefighters’ raises are based on economic conditions in the towns where they work without trampling on their right to negotiate contracts.

Governor Chris Christie has been pushing for a 2 percent cap on annual salary and benefits increases for police and firefighters to help municipalities budget within a 2 percent cap that goes into effect January 1, 2010. Many mayors support the cap on arbitration awards, but police and firefighter unions are bitterly opposed. Unions indicate annual increases in health care costs would more than eat up the 2 percent increase.

Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Lou Greenwald emerged after about two hours in the office of the Governor’s counsel saying talks were continuing. “We’re going to talk throughout the night,” Greenwald said. “I think we had a productive conversation. I do not think we’re far away in our baseline numbers.”

Christie, a Republican, has made arbitration reform a centerpiece of his property tax stabilization efforts. He’s also identified changes in affordable housing rules, eliminating some state-imposed costs to towns and allowing towns to opt out of civil service rules for hiring workers as key components of his agenda.

Since police and firefighters are prohibited from striking, their contract disputes are settled by an arbitrator. Towns have been complaining that the process favors public workers. They say contract awards greater than 2 percent will force them to cut services elsewhere, unless changes are made.

Greenwald’s bill would require an arbitrator to resolve contractual impasses by selecting among “fair and final” offers submitted by each party in the dispute. It would also change the way arbitrators are selected. A competing bill, by Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon of Monmouth County, mirrors the Governor’s proposal for a 2 percent cap on salary and benefits increases, and prohibits either side from proposing more.

Senate Committee Debates Salary Cap for NJ Police and Fire


As reported in the Trentonian on October 15, 2010, a battle is brewing at the Statehouse over whether to cap salary increases for public employees who cannot strike. Various mayors want arbitration-awarded salary and benefits increases for police and firefighters capped at 2 percent to help them control property taxes, but union officials say the ceiling would mean wage givebacks once health care costs are factored in.

The bill is part of Governor Christie’s reform agenda and includes making the arbitration process more favorable to municipalities. The Governor signed a law limiting property tax increases to 2 percent a year beginning in January. Many mayors called the bill the “centerpiece” of Governor’s Christie’s plan. Without it, they say they will have to cut services to lower costs because a large portion of the 2 percent increase get eaten up by salaries for police and firefighters.

Unions have responded by indicating the arbitration process works and that without it, police would be taking an annual pay cut. Anthony Wieters, president of the 30,000 member State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, told lawmakers that binding arbitration, whereby an independent arbitrator settles contract disputes involving police and firefighters who are not allowed to strike, has been demonized by misconceptions. For example, he said arbitrators are already required to consider a town’s ability to pay before deciding public employees’ wage increases. Wieters also indicated that mayors were eager to “scapegoat arbitration as the boogeyman of property taxes.”

Bill Lavin, president of the Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, also testified, calling the cap artificial and politics-driven. “Firefighters and police officers have continued to responsibly negotiate in good economies and bad. They’ve accepted wage freezes and have reorganized active contracts to give relief to municipal governments,” he said. ‘Many local fire unions have, in fact, agreed to multiple-year wage freezes.” 

Please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain the status of this bill’s progression. Needless to say, such a bill would have a severe and detrimental impact upon New Jersey public safety officers throughout the State of New Jersey.