By Ron Leir
It looks like Kearny will achieve labor peace with its police force for the next three years without the threat of layoffs and/or demotions, the residue of prior bargaining.
With the Town Council expected to go along Feb. 5, Kearny will have a new three-year contract with both the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association’s Local 21 and Policemen’s Superior Officers Association.
Members of the PBA and PSOA approved those agreements in separate ratification votes, both taken on Jan. 17. Both carried by “around a 90% majority,” according to PBA President Glenn Reed.
Not that the cops have much to take away from the table. While the agreement, which runs from Jan. 1, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2015, provides for a pay raise, it’s for less than 1% — 0.9521% to be precise – per year for each of the three years. And, really, they’ll be taking that little bit of extra money out of their pockets for their first-time contribution to health care coverage – 1.5% of their total salary – as mandated by state law, thanks to Gov. Chris Christie.
And that contribution – again, as provided by state law – will rise over the next two years of the contract, according to Mayor Alberto Santos. In 2014, he said, “it’s the higher of these two scenarios: 1.5% of your total salary or 8% of the health insurance plan you’re on,” and in 2015, the contribution can increase to “22% of your health plan.”
Under this contract, cops are also saddled – for the first time – with accepting a two-tier system on wages, vacation time, and longevity “for employees hired on and after Jan. 1, 2013.”
So, for example, any new cops hired will have to work 12 years – instead of the six for existing cops – to reach maximum pay for police officer.
Also, from now on, promotions for both existing and new cops will trigger a two-tier “step” process. So: cops now on the payroll who are promoted to sergeant, lieutenant, captain or deputy chief (now represented by the PSOA) will have to work two years to attain maximum pay, while anyone who is hired after Jan. 1, 2013, and who is promoted will take three years to reach the top step of the guide.
Additionally, new hires will get six fewer vacation days over time and it will take longer to earn those days. And longevity pay, which clicks in after six years for existing cops, won’t begin for newbies until after 13 years.
Santos said the givebacks negotiated by the town reflected its efforts to comply with the state-mandated 2% cap.
“And, for the long-term sustainability of the Police Department, we were trying to get as much savings as possible to maintain the staffing levels we need,” he said. “These are steps in the right direction.”
From PBA head Reed’s perspective, the new contract, while by no means easy to swallow, could’ve been worse. “All in all, I’d call it fair, given the economic and political climate out there,” he said. “Our main goal was to keep our members here … and we achieved that.”
Aside from the small wage gain, the cops also bargained for one extra paid holiday, probably Columbus Day, giving them a total of 14 per year.
Under the agreement, a 3-year cop’s annual pay will rise from the current (2012) $65,241 to $67,122 over the life of the contract; a sergeant goes from $115,076 to $118,394; a lieutenant, from $129,462 to $133,195; captain, $145,645 to $149,845; and deputy chief, $154,624 to $159,083.
Santos said the contract will cost the town $238,000 a year, factoring in $45,000 for the additional holiday. The agreement covers 66 rank-and-file cops and 32 superiors excluding the chief. The P.D. budget for 2011 was $14 million.
Asked about the prospects for the town filling a longstanding gap in the total number of cops the town is permitted by local ordinance to maintain – 124 – Santos said: “We will be considering new hires this year; we’re not yet at the point of certifying [an appointment] list because we first want to introduce the budget and determine how much funds are available to do so. If we have retirements, that will help.”
According to Town Administrator Michael Martello, 18 members of the Police Department – including 13 superiors – become eligible to apply for retirement pensions between now and year’s end, including one – Sgt. Brian Ellis – who was scheduled to leave Feb. 1.
And, in the Fire Department, 12 members – including seven superiors – will be eligible for retirement during this year, Martello said. Fire Capt. Darren Elliott is looking to go May 1, he said. The town has yet to settle a new contract with department heads and supervisors, Martello said.