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.