As reported by northjersey.com, members of the Bergen County Bureau of Police Services police union on Monday protested more than two dozen impending layoffs and about a dozen demotions that, the union head said, is an attempt to bust the 75-officer organization.
But Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino, the target of the union’s ire, said there’s another reason for the staffing cuts — namely, his need for more sheriff’s officers in order to satisfy a state-mandated increase in courthouse security.
Det. Chris Weston, president of PBA Local 49, delivered an address at the bureau’s Paramus headquarters Monday afternoon that again accused county officials, including Saudino and County Executive James J. Tedesco III, of breaking promises they made two years ago, when they said bureau officers were not facing layoffs.
“We had believed that our leadership had made a promise that we could count on. And based on their promise … people have made life choices: Families have decided to have children, to buy their first house,” Weston said. “This course of action by county politicians was about one thing, and one thing only: getting rid of PBA 49 and our contract.”
Weston maintains that the layoffs are political payback for grievances the union filed over its contract. And he asked members to plan to attend Wednesday’s meeting of the Bergen County Freeholder Board to further protest Saudino’s layoff plan, which will cut 26 bureau officers and demote 11 more.
But Saudino, who declined to comment on the union’s Monday statements, said in a Friday interview that his choice is stark: He needs about three dozen more sheriff’s officers to meet state requirements regarding courthouse security and bail reform, but can’t hire more with a newly imposed 2 percent cap on his budget. The unfunded mandates, he said, have driven his decision.
“I don’t want anyone to lose a job,” Saudino said. “I have a solid reputation for working to help cops. This is not something I enjoy … but what are my other solutions? I have no options here. I have no options.”
It’s the latest volley in the ongoing clash between the union and Saudino, who took control of the bureau — which was formerly called the Bergen County Police Department — after its 2015 merger with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office. The Police Department, which had a separate chain of command, has continued to maintain its own union, separate from the sheriff’s officers.
Tedesco said in an emailed statement, sent by his spokesperson, that he’d been assured by Saudino that any of the 56 bureau officers who received notices of impending layoff or demotion could transfer to the Sheriff’s Office.
Saudino has confirmed that bureau officers can join his office if they choose. But the bureau’s union has balked, saying such a move would mean pay cuts for its officers.
When the two agencies merged in January 2015, officials touted it as a cost-saving measure that would reduce redundancies.
Though the original agreement, approved by the Freeholder Board and signed by Tedesco, said the bureau would eventually be reduced to 49 officers, it explicitly said the reduction would be by attrition only.
But an April 2017 amendment to the agreement changed the document’s wording and included the phrase “attrition to the extent practicable” — thus opening the door to possible layoffs.
Weston has said the bureau’s officers can be used for the court security Saudino says he needs, provided the assignment judge condones it. Saudino said neither he nor the Sheriff’s Office attorneys believe that to be true.
Furthermore, such a move would cause “mutiny” in his ranks, the sheriff said.
“How do I have a county police officer and a sheriff’s officer in the same courtroom when one is making $25,000 more doing the same job? That is a union nightmare. I will be handed down all kinds of grievances — and they’re probably legitimate grievances,” Saudino said. “I want no part of that. I cannot have that.”
The union has also accused Saudino of refusing to meet with PBA representatives. Saudino contends the union tried to ambush him by recruiting other PBAs to attend what the sheriff thought was to be a private meeting, and he has refused to meet since.