Kearny police settle contract


Members of Kearny’s police unions scored 11 promotions through the ranks and got new 4-year contracts with pay raises.

But as part of the new labor agreements approved by the town governing body last Tuesday, they also agreed to accept a new work schedule, starting Feb. 1, compelling them to put in more time through longer shifts.

Other concessions won by the town include no longevity for new hires, a downwards revised Table of Organization (T.O.) from 120 to 100 and limiting subbing for a superior officer to “one rank above his current rank.”

Under the revised “Pitman” work schedule – which, according to town and PBA officials, was pushed by the state monitor – cops will work 12-hour shifts under a two-week work cycle that goes like this: two days on-duty, two days off, three days on, two days off, two days on and three days off with every other weekend off.

Asked how the union membership is taking the change, PBA Local 21 President Tom Pontrella said that when it was first proposed, “most guys were nervous about it” but are now pretty much reconciled to it.

“In my case,” Pontrella said, “right now, I come to work at 10 p.m. and leave at 6 a.m. but under the new schedule, I’ll be working from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. so I’ll be losing four hours that I now spend with my family each day. But then again, I’ll have more days at home. You make changes and roll with it.”

After all the discussion on pros and cons, Pontrella said the rank-and-file and superior officer memberships voted “overwhelmingly” to ratify the new agreements.

Over the life of the new rank-and-file contracts, top base pay for police officer will go to $109,187.

With all cops now slated to work 233 more hours annually, additional compensation built into their new labor contract seemed justified, Mayor Alberto Santos said. With that in mind, cops’ base pay will be raised 6.5%, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016; 0% for 2017 and 2018; and 1.75% for 2019.

Town CFO Shuaib Firozvi told The Observer that the contract complies with the state’s 2% cap mandate “over the course of the contract since there are two years with 0% increase and last year at 1.75%.”

As for the police T.O., the maximum number allowed by town ordinance for each rank, except for chief, will be reduced: deputy chief, two down to one; captain, seven to four; lieutenant, nine to seven; sergeant, 19 to 17; and police officer, 82 to 70.

Over the life of the new rank-and-file contracts, top base pay for police officer will go to $109,187.

For superior officers hired prior to January 2013 and promoted after Jan. 2013, top pay for sergeant will end up at $128,296; lieutenant, $144,335; and captain, $162,378.

For superiors hired and promoted after Jan. 2013, top pay for sergeant goes to $125,565; lieutenant, $138,128; and captain, $151,935.

And, for superiors hired and promoted prior to Jan. 2013, sergeant’s top pay goes to $128,296; lieutenant, $144,335; captain, $162,378; and deputy chief, $172,388.

The newly promoted officers, all sworn in last Tuesday, are: Capts. David Feldhan and Charles Ferge; Lts. John Taylor, Paul Bershefski, Michael Ryan, Michael Cardella and Richard Poplaski; and Sgts. Kevin Canaley, Thomas Pontrella, Michael Gonzalez and Jay Balogh.

Santos said that a slew of police retirements in the last two years “provided an opportunity for the promotions.”

Kearny is, by and large, a safe town thanks to its police department, the mayor said. “You don’t have to worry about a Baltimore or Cleveland here,” he said, referring to ill feelings directed at police there, “because where there is trust, you know they have your back.”

Police Chief John Dowie offered these comments about the newly promoted superiors:

Capt. Feldhan “gave up a promising career as a teacher” to be a cop, helped solve a Newark murder case and has been recognized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Capt. Ferge, son of a retired police officer, is a “good street cop.”

Lt. Taylor, who supervised the traffic unit, is a former Cop of the Year who disarmed “a guy swinging a machete on Kearny Ave.” He also coached his son’s football team which “went to the national championship.”

Lt. Bershefski, “Bear,” son of a retired State Police lieutenant, is a former Cop of the Year for chasing down a suspect in a home invasion, a firearms instructor and a Police Unity Tour participant.

Lt. Ryan, who began his police career with the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office, then moved to Harrison PD before settling in with the KPD, has run the records division and participated in the Police Unity Tour.

Lt. Cardello has “juggled family and the [promotional review] books.” In the last exam cycle for lieutenant, he “ended up in a tie” with another officer and was temporarily bypassed but stuck with it.

Lt. Poplaski, son of a retired KPD detective, has replaced retired Sgt. John Manley as the town’s OEM coordinator. He has served as Academy firearms instructor, search and seizure trainer, PBA vice president and volunteer fire chief in the community where he now resides.

Sgt. Canaley, who also got his start with the Harrison PD, “was one of our pioneers on bike patrol, put together our Junior Police Academy and is always on the ballfields with the soccer kids.”

Sgt. Pontrella is PBA president, has run the annual PBA carnival fundraiser and has participated in the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run and Polar Bear Club.

Sgt. Gonzalez is known as an “aggressive street cop” who “helped develop information on a Kearny Ave. murder case,” a twice-chosen Cop of the Year, range instructor, certified physical trainer, Honor Guard member, Police Unity Tour participant and competitive boxer.

Sgt. Balogh, a hockey devotee, is a huge Elks fundraiser and has run the PBA Christmas party for several years.

Santos, saluting Dowie, noted that, “the chief is entering his 19th year and it’s because of him that we have peace of mind with his leadership keeping us safe.” To that praise, Dowie responded: “I’m only as good as my people are.”

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