As many of our readers are aware, collective bargaining for New Jersey Public Safety Officers is a great deal different since the two percent “2%” salary cap was instituted and set into motion. However, to recap this issue quickly for those readers that may be unfamiliar with the two percent (2%) salary cap, no collective negotiations unit that has the benefit of availing itself to the interest arbitration process in New Jersey may receive more than a two percent (2%) pay raise per year, in the aggregate, in an interest arbitration award. It is important to understand that the two percent (2%) cap on interest arbitration awards is not two percent (2%) per person, but instead two percent (2%) on the base salary of the total membership of a collective negotiations unit. Furthermore, this includes step increases, longevity pay increases and any other increases to base salary items as defined by the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission. Finally, it is important to note that while the two percent (2%) salary cap only applies to interest arbitration awards, the law has created a “ceiling” on the economic benefits that a collective negotiations unit can obtain at the bargaining table. Think about it–Why would a government entity seated at the bargaining table agree to provide a greater increase in wages than what could be awarded at interest arbitration. As a result of this situation, labor unions now find themselves on unequal footing when it is time to bargain for a successor agreement.
Based on the two percent (2%) salary cap, collective negotiations in the State of New Jersey are no longer conducted as they were prior the passage of the law. Now, every penny that a Collective Negotiations Unit can garner at the bargaining table must be obtained as the total amount of money that is negotiated or can be awarded must be spread out amongst all members of the negotiating unit. With the exception of very rare instances, the days of “across the board increases” are over. Thus, while an attorney’s negotiating skills are still very important, having the ability to “cost out” a contract and understanding the intricacies of the costs of “step movement” on a salary guide sometimes rules the day. Additionally, an attorney must also have the ability to develop a new salary guide when step movement and longevity movement exceed the two percent (2%) salary cap.
In my opinion, the tasks stated above can only be accomplished with a strong understanding of mathematics and Microsoft Excel. Manipulating algebraic equations through the use of Microsoft Excel allows a collective negotiations unit to obtain the true “cost” of a contract, and in certain instances, pose various scenarios for Union Leadership to decide where to add steps to a salary guide and where to distribute the monies allotted under the two percent (2%) salary cap. For instance, through the use of Microsoft Excel, our firm was able to bring a negotiations unit within five dollars ($5.00) of the two percent (2%) salary cap. Thus, no money was left at the bargaining table and union leadership was able to inform its membership without reservation that they obtained every dollar that was available that fell under the two percent (2%) salary cap.
“Costing Out” a contract is not a new phenomenon in labor law. Collective negotiations units have been costing out contracts for years in an effort to obtain more money at the bargaining table. However in costing out a contract today utilizing Microsoft Excel, a collective negotiations unit is able to tell exactly what a contract will cost a governmental entity or corporation, and ensure that they are obtaining every penny that they possibly can under the restrictions of the law. Thus, I state without reservation that if you are not utilizing Excel during negotiations, you are doing nothing more than “guessing” and “hoping” that you are obtaining every dollar that you possibly can for your membership.