CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS BACK ON TRACK IN ESSEX COUNTY - ALL OFFICERS TO RECEIVE THEIR STEP INCREMENTS
On March 18, 2014, Essex County PBA President announced that Union Officials have met with the County Executive and reached an agreement whereby there will not be a step freeze and negotiations will continue. All officers who were/are entitled to a step increment will receive same.
It takes great leadership, on both sides of the table, to right the ship. Nicely done Gentlemen.
Essex County Corrections are currently in contract negotiations.
They met on 5 occasions in January 2014 to commence "contract negotiations".
Neither party has moved for arbitration.
On Tuesday, March 11, 2014 they held another meeting with no discussion of step freezes.
The Union learned through the "grapevine" and confirmed on Thursday March 13, 2014, that the County arbitrarily initiated step freezes.
Both the County and the Union are obligated to Bargain in Good Faith:
The Good Faith Bargaining Requirement
The PERC law requires that the parties "negotiate in good faith". This standard for a bargaining attitude is the conerstone of all bargaining laws affecting the public as well as the private sector. Very simple, the "good faith" standard requires that the parties approach bargaining with a genuine desire to reach a mutual agreement.
Apparently, while appearing to be negotiating in good faith and simultaneously campaigning, the County has found itself in a pickle.
In an article dated February 4, 2014, the headlines read:
DiVincenzo praised the work of county employees as he highlighted the county’s fiscal health as his proudest accomplishment.
“Cutting expenses, finding efficiencies, generating revenue and minimally raising taxes all helped to stabilize the bottom line,” DiVincenzo, who is seeking the Democratic party nomination in the June primary race, said.
As in years past, DiVincenzo lauded the corrections and parks departments for bringing money into the county's coffers. Last year the county parks, including Turtle Back Zoo, raked in $12 million in revenue, he said. In 2007, the county parks collected $6.5 million.
The Essex County Correctional Facility, the state’s largest county jail, brought in $45.5 million through contracts with federal and state agencies as well as five other counties. In August, the 2,434-bed lockup in Newark received a three-year accrediation from the American Correctional Association after scoring high marks. In December, the County announced that it’s juvenile detention center was awarded “Facility of the Year” by the Chicago-based nonprofit National Commission on Correctional Health Care.
Clearly, you cannot tell the public that you have "fiscal health" in February, while using the poor man's excuse to negotiate a contract. So, the County just implemented a "steps freeze" whith no notice or discussion with the Union, knowing that they could not win the argument and justify thier actions.
PERC Laws provide:
Does the parties conduct suggest that it is simply going through the motion of bargaining rather them approaching negotiations with a good-faith desire to reach a settlement?
Boards bargaining has been found to be lacking in good faith when: Boards implemented a change in terms and conditions of employment during negotiations.
Mount Holly Board of Education, PERC No. 84-27, 9 NJPER 14252
The County's motivation for making the steps freeze is not known at this time but it appears that they deliberately violated the PERC Law and Bargaining Process to erode the bargaining process and force the matter to Arbitration where they would be able to predict to the outcome of negotiations. If they go to Arbitration it does not matter that the County is fiscally healthy and can afford more than a 2% raise. The Arbitrator is held by law to the 2% raise cap.
34:13A-16.7. Definitions Relative to Police and Fire Arbitration; Limitation on Awards
"Base salary" means the salary provided pursuant to a salary guide or table and any amount provided pursuant to a salary increment, including any amount provided for longevity or length of service. It also shall include any other item agreed to by the parties, or any other item that was included in the base salary as understood by the parties in the prior contract. Base salary shall not include non-salary economic issues, pension and
health and medical insurance costs.
"Non-salary economic issues" means any economic issue that is not included in the definition of base salary.
b. An arbitrator shall not render any award pursuant to section 3 of P.L.1977, c.85 (C.34:13A-16) which, on an annual basis, increases base salary items by more than 2.0 percent of the aggregate amount expended by the public employer on base salary items for the members of the affected employee organization in the twelve months immediately preceding the expiration of the collective negotiation agreement subject to arbitration; provided, however, the parties may agree, or the arbitrator may decide, to distribute the aggregate monetary value of the award over the term of the collective negotiation agreement in unequal annual percentages. An award of an arbitrator shall not include base salary items and non-salary economic issues which were not included in the prior collective negotiations agreement.
Beginning April 1, 2014, the 2% arbitration cap shall become inoperative for all parties except those whose contracts expired prior to April 1, 2014, but for whom a final settlment has not been reached. When final settlement in all such negotiations is reached, the 2% arbitration cap shall expire.
Interest Arbitration Act at page 5.
Lastly, the PBA President takes issue with the County using the decision in Atlantic County to permit the same actions in Essex County. President Amato pointed out that the circumstances in Atlantic County are not the same as Essex. Certainly Atlantic County does not enjoy "fiscal health" as does Essex County. Atlantic City and its coastal communitities were devastated by two natural disasters. The June 29, 2012 Derecho and on October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy came on shore in Brigantine, Atlantic County. While all Counties were impacted in different ways by these events, (Salem, Cumberland and Atlantic were the only ones hit by the Derecho), Atlantic County was already struggling financially with the ailing casino industry. In fact, just this past week, Atlantic City announced a 47% tax increase and last October, 51 firefighters were given layoff notices.