As reported by, the state law that for the last three years has capped the raises that local police officers and firefighters can get if they take contract disputes to interest arbitration will soon expire, and lawmakers have yet to propose a bill to extend what local officials say has been a key tool in the effort to keep property tax bills in check.
Governor Christie signed the 2 percent cap on interest arbitration awards into law in late 2010 after Democratic legislative leaders inserted a provision allowing the rule to sunset after three years. Now the cap will expire on April 1 unless lawmakers take new action. At the same time, legislators have drafted a measure that would increase the salaries for Cabinet officials and judges and boost the budget for their own staffs’ salaries, which haven’t increased for several years.
The salaries of police officers and firefighters account for much of a municipality’s spending, and local officials warn that a failure to extend the arbitration cap could bring on cuts in services, since the broader two percent cap on local property taxes increases, also passed in 2010, remains in effect. “If you aren’t going to have an arbitration cap, then you are going to force municipalities into making potentially draconian cuts in quality-of-life services,” said Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. “There does not seem to be a willingness to do this by April 1,” he said.
Matt Watkins, the city manager in Clifton, said the cap was the most important cost-savings measure for local towns in places like Bergen and Passaic counties passed in the last 10 years. “It has helped a great deal,” he said.
Christie, in his State of the State address in January, stressed the need to extend the arbitration cap. Dressel said he fears that the cap extension could become a bargaining chip in lawmakers’ upcoming battle with the Republican governor over the state budget this spring.
In New Jersey, public employee labor unions and local officials go into binding arbitration if they can’t agree on a contract. In such cases, an arbitrator is asked to consider each side’s argument and come up with a fair decision. After the limits were enacted in 2010, the average raise awarded by arbitrators dropped to 1.6 percent in 2013 from 3.8 percent in 2009, according to the Public Employment Relations Commission.
Not everyone is in favor of extending the cap in its current form, including some of the state’s public employee unions. The 2 percent limit hinders the ability of unions and towns to enter into balanced negotiations said Dominick Marino, president of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey. He said the cap has hurt his members, who often start their careers with low pay. The union recognizes the economy is sluggish and sacrifices are needed, Marino said, adding that at a minimum, changes how the cap is calculated should be considered. Currently, the math provides for very few exceptions to the 2 percent ceiling.

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Photo of Donald C. Barbati Donald C. Barbati

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues…

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues litigated before the courts and administrative tribunals throughout the State of New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Barbati also routinely represents individuals in various types of public pension appeals, real estate transactions, and general litigation matters. He is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog, a free legal publication designed to keep New Jersey public safety officers up-to-date and informed about legal issues pertinent to their profession. During his years of practice, Mr. Barbati has established a reputation for achieving favorable results for his clients in a cost-efficient manner.

Mr. Barbati has also handled numerous novel legal issues while representing New Jersey Public Safety Officers. Most notably, he served as lead counsel for the Appellants in the published case In re Rodriguez, 423 N.J. Super. 440 (App. Div. 2011). In that case, Mr. Barbati successfully argued on behalf of the Appellants, thereby overturning the Attorney General’s denial of counsel to two prison guards in a civil rights suit arising from an inmate assault. In the process, the Court clarified the standard to be utilized by the Attorney General in assessing whether a public employee is entitled to legal representation and mandated that reliance must be placed on up-to-date information.

Prior to becoming a practicing attorney, Mr. Barbati served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Linda R. Feinberg, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer Vicinage. During his clerkship Mr. Barbati handled numerous complex and novel substantive and procedural issues arising from complaints in lieu of prerogative writs, orders to show cause, and motion practice. These include appeals from decisions by planning and zoning boards and local government bodies, bidding challenges under the Local Public Contract Law, Open Public Records Act requests, the taking of private property under the eminent domain statute, and election law disputes. In addition, Mr. Barbati, as a certified mediator, mediated many small claims disputes in the Special Civil Part.

Mr. Barbati received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Upon graduating, Mr. Barbati attended Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2007, he received his juris doctorate, magna cum laude, graduating in the top five percent of his class. During law school, Mr. Barbati interned for the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, assisting on various constitutional, employment, and Third Circuit Court of Appeals litigation, including numerous civil rights, social security, and immigration cases.