Over the past several days, the minority leaders of the New Jersey State Legislature have become increasingly vocal in their demands to renew what is commonly called the Interest Arbitration Salary Cap. The Interest Arbitration Salary Cap limits Interest Arbitrator’s economic awards that govern pay raises for first responders in the State of New Jersey.
To place this matter in proper context, it is important to provide our readers with a little background. In New Jersey, first responders, to include Police Officers, Corrections Officers and Firefighters, are permitted to collectively negotiate for the salary they receive and other economic and non-economic terms and conditions of employment. However, with this being said, if an agreement can not be reached, employer lockouts and employee strikes can not be utilized as a leveraging “tool” by either management or labor. Thus, if an impasse is reached at the negotiations table, either labor or management may submit the impasse or dispute to an interest arbitrator who will examine evidence and then issue an award that will become the terms and conditions of the collective negotiations agreement between the parties.
Up until 2011, the process worked. The bargaining table was level as both labor and management knew that an arbitrator could craft an economic award that was either less valuable or more valuable than what was being offered. However, Governor Christie, through the assistance of the legislature, passed the Interest Arbitration Salary Cap that placed a two percent (2%) limit on the total amount of monies that could be awarded as a salary increase to an entire bargaining unit annually for the duration of the contract.
The Two percent (2%) salary cap has undoubtedly caused what was a previously level bargaining table to one that is now titled very much in favor of management. Now, management knows that the worst that can be awarded at interest arbitration is two percent. Thus, this knowledge permits their bargaining team to negotiate with a preconceived ceiling that will often have deleterious results on a union when they come to the table.
It can not be countenanced that as a result of the two percent (2%) salary cap, and the mandatorily legislated employee health care contributions, first resp0nders in our State now take home less money in their pay checks than they did ten (10) to fifteen (15) years ago. Amongst other things, this has undoubtedly affected the morale of these men and women, and despite what one may say, a high level of morale amongst sworn law enforcement officers and firefighters is important for their health and safety and the safety of the public. Additionally, as a result of these pay cuts, the left wing’s verbal attacks on our first responders and the cowardly criminal acts that have recently been perpetrated upon them; we have seen interest in these vital positions of employment decline dramatically. Logic follows that when the pool of applicants gets smaller, there are not as many highly qualified candidates to hire–not a good situation for anyone. This is not my opinion, but the facts that I have observed in working with these men and women and their collective negotiations units on a daily basis.
The Republican Legislators that are now demanding that the Interest Arbitration Salary Cap be renewed are doing so because they know the “party is over”. Lieutenant Governor Guadagno is woefully behind Phil Murphy in the polls, and thus the anti-union sentiment that we have felt for the last eight (8) years is about to end barring some type of political Armageddon. Has Phil Murphy promised to eliminate the salary cap? The answer is an unequivocal NO. However, he has stated that he will review the cap as well as the 2017 Interest Arbitration Task Force Report that is due to be published on December 31, 2017, before drawing conclusions and making recommendations about the viability of the cap and whether or not it needs to be renewed or perhaps modified. However, what we don’t need today are legislators that are legislating and making demands out of fear because they now recognize that Governor Christie’s reign of maltreating public employees is coming to an end.