4-year contract for cops

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


The borough has nailed down a new labor pact with the police union and narrowly approved a two-year extension of its contract with Police Chief Louis Ghione.

At a special meeting Dec. 29, the mayor and Borough Council unanimously voted to enter into a new agreement with Patrolman’s Benevolent Association Local 95 that will provide annual pay increases of 1.25% for four years, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, through Dec. 31, 2017.

The prior three-year contract had expired Dec. 31, 2013. The new agreement, which covers all 28 members of the North Arlington Police Department, except the chief, calls for annual pay raises of 1.25%, with no other changes to the existing steps in the salary guide or benefits.

As of last week, no new salary guide spelling out how pay levels for each police rank will change over the life of the contract had yet been prepared, according to Borough Administrator Steve LoIacono.

It took a state arbitrator, Frank Mason, to settle the prior contract: Mason awarded no pay increase for 2011, a 2.5% pay hike effective April 1, 2012; and an additional 2.5% raise effective April 1, 2013. Mason called for an 11-step process for a police officer to reach maximum pay, starting at $42,079 and topping off at $106,107 per year.

According to LoIacono, the old PBA contract set $121,510 as the base pay for police sergeant, $132,446 as base pay for lieutenant and $144,356 as base pay for captain. The chief’s contract entitles him to a salary at least 9% above captain’s pay and that provision is retained under his extended contract.

In a phone interview with The Observer last week, outgoing Mayor Peter Massa, a Democrat, hailed the new four-year agreement as “one of the lowest settlements in the (South Bergen) area. I commend the PBA for accepting my counter-proposal.”

And, Massa added, “I’m doing the new administration (led by incoming Mayor Joseph Bianchi, a Republican) a favor by wrapping up an important labor contract before I go out the door.”

PBA Local 95 President Robert Evans said the union negotiating team recommended approval of the pact to the membership, which, he said, voted overwhelmingly Dec. 30 for ratification.

Given the financial pressures felt by the borough, Evans said the union did what it could to “hammer out a deal to serve the interests of the officers and the taxpayers” – and without having to resort to a third party intervening.

Still, while the borough government may have achieved some measure of labor peace with the new contract, the Bianchi administration may soon find itself having to deal with the issue of maintaining sufficient personnel in the police ranks, given that, according to Evans, six members of the department – one officer and five superiors – representing about 20% of the force — are currently eligible for retirement.

“They can walk out the door tomorrow,” he said. At this point, it‘s unclear whether any or all of them will do that.

One key figure who will be presiding over this situation is Chief Ghione, whose term of employment, under his old contract, had run from Dec. 31, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2015, and which now continues through Dec. 31, 2017.

The Borough Council had deadlocked 3-3 along party lines on the Democrats’ proposal to lengthen the chief’s contract and it fell to Massa to cast the tie-breaking vote in the chief’s favor.

Bianchi told The Observer last week that he and his fellow Republicans opposed the contract extension because the chief’s old contract specifies that a new contract “can’t be talked about until September 2015. There are to be no negotiations until 2015.” By voting now to give the chief another two years, “we broke the contract and it was wrong,” Bianchi said.

Asked for his reaction, Massa said he interpreted the language in the old agreement to mean that, “it encourages the parties to negotiate prior to the expiration date of the contract. To keep stability, the chief agreed to an extension with no additional benefits. He’s done an exemplary job during his 10 years as chief. He’s kept the crime rate low, he’s managed the department well with minimum manpower and he’s helped secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in (police) grants.”

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