A recent editorial published on NJ.Com calls for Assembly Speaker, Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson County) to renew the two percent (2%) salary cap on interest arbitration awards for law enforcement officers and firefighters that is set to expire on April 1, 2014.
The editorial stated that the 2% cap had to be put in place due to the fact that "the unions used their political clout to rig the rules on negotiations. All they had to do was create a standoff in contract talks, and the dispute would be sent to an arbitrator, who would typically award salary increases in excess of inflation. Over time, that created this monster."
The editorial writer goes on to further state that Governor Christie, "In collaboration with Democratic leaders, changed those rules to give taxpayers a fighting chance. A key provision imposed a 2% cap on salary increases, intended to match the 2% cap on property tax increases. It has worked exactly as planned. A special task force is reviewing the reform now, but there is no doubt it has resulted in lower salary increases. In the roughly three years after the reform took effect, the average increase in police salaries was just 1.86 percent, the smallest bump in two decades."
The editorial reports that Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) says renewal is a certainty. However, mayors are more worried about the Assembly, where Democrats are more closely allied to the unions.
Our point of view at the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog is different. It can not be argued that the 2% cap on salary increases has created an imbalance at the bargaining table in favor of management. I make this statement based on first hand experience. Now, government will not even consider bargaining for salary raises close to 2% as they know that there is no chance that the same could ever be awarded by an interest arbitrator. Additionally, the 2% cap has been interpreted by PERC in such a way that it has forced Union Leadership to restructure salary guides where it now often takes law enforcement officers fifteen (15) to twenty (20) years to reach max salary. It has also resulted in Union Leadership being forced to give up longevity payments and other forms of remuneration that they have fought hard to receive over the years.
Finally, the salary cap coupled with the mandatory payments for healthcare, often equaling close to nine percent (9%) of an officers gross salary, result in law enforcement officers today making approximately ten percent (10%) less in salary because of the inability to bargain for a raise that can keep up with the increased cost of living and the legislatively mandated payments towards healthcare.
Has it really worked? The Governor and the legislature told us that the 2% cap would result in a reduction of property taxes. Have your taxes gone down? My property taxes haven’t. Based on the foregoing, the 2% cap has to go, and the sooner the better.