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Lawmakers Relaunch Bill to Transfer Management of PFRS away from State

Posted in Uncategorized

As reported by, Lawmakers have relaunched an effort to spin off management of the pension fund for police and firefighters from New Jersey’s larger $78 billion pension system, a move that former Gov. Chris Christie blocked last year over concerns that it gave labor unions a “blank check” to enhance their benefits at taxpayers’ expense.

The bipartisan measure, which is supported by the four unions representing police officers and firefighters but opposed by representatives of municipal and county associations, was approved unanimously by the Senate state government committee on Thursday.

It requires several more approvals in both the Senate and Assembly before it can be sent to the governor’s desk for a final endorsement or veto. Unlike last year, when Christie, a Republican, conditionally vetoed the measure, Phil Murphy, a Democrat swept into office with the support of organized labor, now occupies the governor’s office.

A Murphy spokesman declined to comment on the legislation Thursday.

New Jersey currently manages the pension funds for several groups of employees together, pooling the assets and making investment decisions for all the funds through the State Investment Council, whose members are chosen by unions and the administration.

The new bill, S-5, however, would transfer management of the Police and Fire Retirement System, which has more than 88,000 participants and $27 billion in assets, from the state to a new 12-member board of trustees, which would hire its own executive director, actuary, chief investment officer and ombudsman.

The panel would be able to change contribution rates, adjust benefits and approve cost of living adjustments for retirees despite pension reforms Christie signed into law in 2011 restricting such changes. Seven of 12 trustees would be union representatives with the rest appointed by the governor to represent government employers.

Union officials say that they have been formulating the ideas in the legislation for years as they have grown frustrated with the performance of investments managed by the state and fees paid to outside fund managers.

Those officials also blame the state, which for years has failed to fund the pension system at a rate recommended by actuaries, for the slide of the Police and Fire Retirement System from over 100 percent funded in 2000 to about 65 percent as of last year.

“The reason that we are where we are today is not because of us and it’s not because of local government,” Eddie Donnelly, president of the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, said Thursday. “It’s because of the reckless policies and enactments from state government, from the governor and the treasurer’s office.”

But representatives of both the New Jersey State League of Municipalities and the New Jersey Association of Counties testified against the bill Thursday over concerns that it transfers management of the pension fund to police and fire unions while leaving taxpayers on the hook for the associated risks.

John Donnadio, executive director of the association of counties, pointed out that local governments — and by extension taxpayers — will contribute nearly three times more money toward the Police and Fire Retirement System in 2018 than the members themselves. Because of that, he said, taxpayers will largely have to foot the bill should the board choose to enhance benefits or make other decisions that prove to be costly.

Donnadio and Michael Cerra, assistance executive director of the League of Municipalities, asked lawmakers to amend the bill to establish an equal balance between union and employer representation on the board and to add other provisions to make it harder for the board to enhance member benefits.

“If these amendments are not amenable to the committee or to the sponsor … then we would recommend that the plan be then changed to become a defined contribution plan,” similar to a 401(k), Donnadio added. “If the labor wants the management, then we believe that equity demands that they also assume the risk of loss with these plans.”

Christie expressed similar concerns when he conditionally vetoed a similar measure last year.

“I refuse to repeat the mistakes of prior governors and legislatures who enacted pension legislation without ensuring appropriate safeguards for taxpayers nor securing significant concessions from labor,” Christie wrote in a veto statement. “I refuse to hand PFRS a blank check, while handing the taxpayers the deposit slip.”

Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, dismissed those concerns after Thursday’s hearing.

“It’s a ludicrous argument because it’s our pension system,” he said. “We’re here because we want to save the system.”

He also said that there is no labor-management pension board in the country that gives as many or more board seats to government representatives as it does to labor representatives.

The bill will next be considered by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Monday.

Police, Fire Trucks Escort Critically-Injured Firefighter Home After Rehab

Posted in Uncategorized

As reported by, a Newark Firefighter injured while battling a blaze in December left a rehabilitation facility on Thursday while being heralded in a ceremony by fellow firefighters and friends. Paul Leber, 38, checked out of the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and returned home to continue his recovery, officials said. Firefighters, friends, and officials lined the walkway outside the building as Leber exited the building.

“We are thankful that (Paul) Leber has reached this significant milestone in his recovery,” Newark Director of Public Safety Anthony Ambrose said in a statement. “Over the past month, I’ve come to consider Paulie a friend. I’ve spoken to him almost every day since he was injured and I’m proud of him and for what he stands for.”

Leber became trapped inside a building on Park Avenue after responding to a two-alarm fire at Velez Tire and Auto on December 30th. Police said Leber was in the tire shop with other members of Engine 7 Rescue 1 when they were ordered out of the building as conditions worsened. Leber became disoriented as he was exiting and firefighters went back into the building to rescue him, authorities said.  He was subsequently taken to University Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition before being moved to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx for further treatment, authorities said. From there, Leber was transferred to Kessler, where he spent three weeks. He was given a ride home in an Engine 7 truck.

Leber suffered burns to his face and airway from the heat and smoke inhalation, according to Ambrose. Leber, a graduate of the Bergen County Fire Academy who was born in Passaic, joined the department after serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

This illustrates how dangerous the job as a public safety officer can be. We join Firefighter Leber’s family and friends in welcoming him home and wish him well in his continued recovery.

NJ Supreme Court Will Decide Whether OPRA Covers Police Dash Cam Videos

Posted in Public Employment Labor Law

As reported by the New Jersey Law Journal, the New Jersey Supreme Court will hear the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office’s appeal in a case examining whether the public can access videos recorded by police dashboard cameras. In a 2-1 unpublished decision released in August, the Appellate Division said a police dashcam could be considered a public record, available for release. However, the Court left open the question of whether documents stemming from the recording could also be released.

The Appellate Division’s decision largely affirmed the underlying trial court, which ruled the footage does not fall within the list of exemptions in the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) that allows government officials to keep certain records from public view. The Appellate Division said the case should be remanded to determine whether the plaintiff seeking the dashcam recordings should be allowed access to reports written about the episode in question and whether the plaintiff was entitled to counsel fees.

Appellate Division Judges Ellen Koblitz and Thomas Sumners, Jr. said lower courts are still waiting for the Supreme Court to determine whether reports and documents related to specific dashcam videos are records that are required to be kept by law and, thus, subject to OPRA. However, Judge Susan Reisner, in a partial dissent, said such records should not be open to public view since there are no statutes or state government directives requiring them to be kept.

In the case, Ganzweig v. Township of Lakewood, Ganzweig sought footage taken from the dashcam of a Lakewood Police Officer who was charged with official misconduct following a traffic stop, from which he charged a driver and passenger with drug-related offenses that were later dropped. The trial judge agreed that the dashcam video should be made public. Judges Koblitz and Sumners largely agreed in their majority ruling.

The Supreme Court will have to determine whether dashcam videos and subsequent reports are documents that, under OPRA’s guidelines, are required to be kept “by law” since Lakewood, at the time, had issued only a directive that all traffic stops be recorded. This is an important question as it will undoubtedly affect police departments, and police officers, throughout the State of New Jersey. As such, please continue to check this blog periodically for updates regarding the progression of this case.

Police Pay Tribute to Lieutenant Killed in Crash

Posted in Uncategorized

As reported by, a small memorial service was held at the East District Precinct in Jersey City to remember a veteran lieutenant fatally struck by a vehicle on the New Jersey Turnpike. Lt. Christopher Robateau, 49, was driving to work on January 5 when he was involved in a minor crash with a truck. Officials say he got out of his vehicle to check on the other driver and died when he was hit by a pickup truck.

Police Officers joined Robateau’s three sons, wife, and dog for the memorial, where his photo was on display beside candles and cross inside the station. Robateau was a 23-year veteran with the Department who was recalled as being one of the city’s best officers. His sons gave emotional eulogies at his funeral, describing their father as the greatest man they’ve ever know.

This is yet another example of another New Jersey public safety officer taken way too soon. Our heartfelt sympathies and deepest condolences go out to Lieutenant Robateau’s family and friends as well as the Jersey City Police Department.

Preparing for Collective Negotiations in 2018 Now That The 2% Salary Cap Has Expired

Posted in Contract Negotiations, Interest Arbitration, Pay and Overtime, Public Employment Labor Law

Next week I will again be speaking at the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association’s Collective Bargaining Seminar in Atlantic City, New Jersey.   Now that the two percent (2%) Interest Arbitration Salary Cap has expired and not been renewed, this will be the first time in eight (8) years that the seminar is being held where Labor and Management are again sitting at a bargaining table that is level.   Based on these facts, I wanted to present a small “primer” on “How to Prepare to Collectively Bargain” for Law Enforcement and Fire Labor Unions now that the salary cap has expired.

It is important to note that despite the fact that the two percent (2%) interest arbitration salary cap has been eliminated, your preparation as a union and approach to negotiations should not change. One must remember that the party that has the upper hand at the negotiations table is the party that controls the “leverage” of the negotiations. The party with the greater amount of leverage is not necessarily in the best position at the bargaining table. However, the party that has the ability to “control” their leverage by exerting it and utilizing it at the bargaining table at the right time and in the right way may very well be in the best position to obtain a favorable outcome in the negotiations short of proceeding to interest arbitration.

The way that leverage is obtained is through gathering all relevant and important information that is pertinent to negotiations, analyzing the same; and then manipulating the information to “construct” your leverage and then utilize it at the bargaining table.

It should always be the goal of the Union to avoid interest arbitration due to the uncertainty involved in the outcome as well the exorbitant costs associated with the same. However, it must be clearly communicated to the governmental entity at the bargaining table through and during the negotiations process that the Union is not afraid to go to interest arbitration because the Union:

  1. Is better Prepared;
  2. Is more skilled in the negotiations process and interest arbitration process;
  3. Has a greater command of the law and understands what they are and are not entitled to;
  4. Has gathered all of the necessary facts that support the proposals that have been communicated at the bargaining table;
  5. Has constructed clear and unambiguous proposals that support the economic and non-economic goals that the Union has set out to obtain; and
  6. The goals are realistic, not inflated, reasonable and obtainable at Interest Arbitration.

As stated in the beginning of this article, this is a nothing more than a mere “primer” for beginning the preparations process for collective bargaining.  Remember, if you are well prepared and have a solid strategy prior to beginning negotiations your chances of success will increase exponentially.

Sale of T-Shirts Fund Bulletproof Vest for Police’s New K-9

Posted in Uncategorized

As reported by, Rigo, the new Robbinsville police K-9 dog, will soon don a bulletproof vest paid for by t-shirt sales that honored a late Trenton police K-9 officer. The fund was a joint effort by Ron Hubscher, Jr. of Rons Fire House Tees and the deceased officer’s family members. To this end, one thousand dollars ($1,000)  was recently donated to Rigo’s handler, Robbinsville Patrolman Edward Vincent, to fund the dog’s vest.

Rigo, a black Labrador Retriever, joined the Robbinsville Police Force in October and is trained to sniff out explosives and track humans and is assigned to the Township’s schools, wherein Officer Vincent works as the resource officer.

Hubscher, who retired from the Trenton Fire Department three years ago, has been in the t-shirt business for years, and often makes t-shirts for charitable causes. In 2016, he donated $1,524 to a Bucks County, Pennsylvania surgeon who treated his wife for breast cancer. The proceeds were from pink-tinged Trenton Fire Department t-shirts he sold, mainly to firefighters and family members.

During his Last Full Day in Office, Governor Christie Signs a Bill that Allows Politicians to Pad their Pensions

Posted in Public Employment Pension Crisis

As reported in the New Jersey Observer, during his last full day in office, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill on Monday to pad pensions for certain politicians. The fast-tracked bill, which sped through the legislature in less than a month, allows certain elected officials to re-enroll in the public worker pension system, even if they were kicked out due to switching from one elected office to another.  Christie did not include a signing statement for the pension padding legislation like he did for many other bills that he signed on that day.

Effectively, the new law (S3620/A5322) creates a special exemption that allows certain politicians to cash in on a bigger public pension at a time when public workers who are not politically connected have seen cutbacks to their benefits and a freeze in yearly cost-of-living adjustments for retirees since 2011.

At issue was a 2007 law that put new elected officials in a retirement plan, similar to a 401(k), called the “Defined Contribution Retirement Program.” That plan offers less generous benefits than the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS), one of the state’s largest and least financially sound pension funds.  Elected officials already enrolled in PERS before July 1, 2007, however, were allowed to keep building up their heftier PERS pensions as long as they remained in the same elected office, with an exception for lawmakers who jumped between the Assembly and Senate.

Now, politicians who served in elected office on July 1, 2007—but later jumped to another elected office—can re-enroll in the PERS fund, so long as they have served at least 15 years with no break in time between holding different offices. Those elected officials can also make their pension enrollment retroactive to the date of taking any previous elected office.

Such action on the part of the Governor and the legislature appears to be nothing more than a kick in the teeth to New Jersey’s Public Employees that have been paying into the pension system continually only to see the health of the system decay due to State sponsored pension holidays and the Governor’s refusal to fund the pension system as promised.  The ball is now in Governor Elect Murphy’s court to handle the State’s public pensions.  Certainly, all of New Jersey is looking towards him for a better performance than his predecessor.




Crivelli & Barbati Achieve Favorable Verdict for Five State Corrections Officers Sued for Civil Rights Violations

Posted in Public Employee Discipline

Following a two week trial presided by the Honorable Anne E. Thompson, USDJ, in the United States District Court, District of New Jersey, a jury of ten men and women unanimously returned a verdict of “No Cause of Liability” against three State Corrections Officers, a State Corrections Sergeant and a State Corrections Lieutenant.  In the suit the officers were accused of violating a prisoner’s Constitutional Rights through the use of excessive force under 42 USC 1983.  The alleged use of excessive force revolved around an incident that occurred in 2010 in the Management Control Unit at New Jersey State Prison located in Trenton, New Jersey.  The prisoner, represented by the law firm of Barry, Corrado & Grassi, was suing the officers for compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees and costs for physical injuries sustained along with the violation of his civil rights.  The law suit was ongoing for four years before the verdict was returned by the jury.  Frank M. Crivelli, Esq. served as Trial Counsel in the case for Crivelli & Barbati, L.L.C.

New Jersey Does Not Need the Republicans Legislating the 2% Salary Cap Out of Fear of November’s Impending Gubernatorial Election Results

Posted in Uncategorized

Over the past several days, the minority leaders of the New Jersey State Legislature have become increasingly vocal in their demands to renew what is commonly called the Interest Arbitration Salary Cap.  The Interest Arbitration Salary Cap limits Interest Arbitrator’s economic awards that govern pay raises for first responders in the State of New Jersey.

To place this matter in proper context, it is important to provide our readers with a little background.  In New Jersey, first responders, to include Police Officers, Corrections Officers and Firefighters, are permitted to collectively negotiate for the salary they receive and other economic and non-economic terms and conditions of employment.  However, with this being said, if an agreement can not be reached, employer lockouts and employee strikes can not be utilized as a leveraging “tool” by either management or labor.  Thus, if an impasse is reached at the negotiations table, either labor or management may submit the impasse or dispute to an interest arbitrator who will examine evidence and then issue an award that will become the terms and conditions of the collective negotiations agreement between the parties.

Up until 2011, the process worked.  The bargaining table was level as both labor and management knew that an arbitrator could craft an economic award that was either less valuable or more valuable than what was being offered.  However, Governor Christie, through the assistance of the legislature, passed the Interest Arbitration Salary Cap that placed a two percent (2%) limit on the total amount of monies that could be awarded as a salary increase to an entire bargaining unit annually for the duration of the contract.

The Two percent (2%) salary cap has undoubtedly caused what was a previously level bargaining table to one that is now titled very much in favor of management.  Now, management knows that the worst that can be awarded at interest arbitration is two percent.  Thus, this knowledge permits their bargaining team to negotiate with a preconceived ceiling that will often have deleterious results on a union when they come to the table.

It can not be countenanced that as a result of the two percent (2%) salary cap, and the mandatorily legislated employee health care contributions, first resp0nders in our State now take home less money in their pay checks than they did ten (10) to fifteen (15) years ago.  Amongst other things, this has undoubtedly affected the morale of these men and women, and despite what one may say, a high level of morale amongst sworn law enforcement officers and firefighters is important for their health and safety and the safety of the public.  Additionally, as a result of these pay cuts, the left wing’s verbal attacks on our first responders and the cowardly criminal acts that have recently been perpetrated upon them; we have seen interest in these vital positions of employment decline dramatically.  Logic follows that when the pool of applicants gets smaller, there are not as many highly qualified candidates to hire–not a good situation for anyone.  This is not my opinion, but the facts that I have observed in working with these men and women and their collective negotiations units on a daily basis.

The Republican Legislators that are now demanding that the Interest Arbitration Salary Cap be renewed are doing so because they know the “party is over”.  Lieutenant Governor Guadagno is woefully behind Phil Murphy in the polls, and thus the anti-union sentiment that we have felt for the last eight (8) years is about to end barring some type of political Armageddon.  Has Phil Murphy promised to eliminate the salary cap?  The answer is an unequivocal NO.  However, he has stated that he will review the cap as well as the 2017 Interest Arbitration Task Force Report that is due to be published on December 31, 2017, before drawing conclusions and making recommendations about the viability of the cap and whether or not it needs to be renewed or perhaps modified.  However, what we don’t need today are legislators that are legislating and making demands out of fear because they now recognize that Governor Christie’s reign of maltreating public employees is coming to an end.

New Jersey State Employees to Receive Back Pay For Time Away From Work Due To Government Shutdown

Posted in Public Employment Labor Law

As reported by NJ 101.5, Governor Chris Christie has signed the bill granting back pay to state workers to cover the wages lost during the three-day partial government shutdown at the start of July.

An estimated 30,000 to 35,000 workers were furloughed. Most of them were off the job for one day, as the first two days of the shutdown fell on a weekend — though some would have been on the job on Saturday and Sunday, such as parks workers.

Christie didn’t indicate when workers will receive the back pay. He said the law takes effect immediately, enabling the State Department of the Treasury to begin acting on the reimbursements as quickly as possible.

However, in reviewing the bill, S3422, it is unclear if essential employees, such as New Jersey State Corrections Officers and Corrections Supervisors who were on scheduled vacations and had the vacation days converted to “unpaid leaves of absences” will have their pay restored.  We will continue to review this issue and look to the NJDOC, JJC and NJ State Parole Board to see how they handle the same.