EAST ORANGE, NJ — Dozens of members of the East Orange Police Department appeared to have
contracted a case of the blue flu, causing them to call out sick from work Friday, Feb. 19.
According to sources in the East Orange Police Department that preferred to remain anonymous due to the fact the department’s unions are currently engaged in contract negotiations with Mayor Lester Taylor’s administration, as many as 86 police officers called out of work Friday, Feb. 19. City officials would not confirm that number or link the sudden outbreak of illness in the department to the ongoing contract talks with the Fraternal Order of Police and Policemen’s Benevolent Association unions.
“The East Orange Police Department had full coverage and no services were disrupted,” said Taylor on Monday, Feb. 22. “We are extremely proud of our police officers and the phenomenal job they do every day to keep our city safe. I respect the bargaining process and we have every intention of reaching a fair agreement that supports the brave men and women of our police department.”
East Orange Public Safety Director Sheilah Coley also made it clear that whatever the health reasons were behind the work absences on Friday, Feb. 19, they had nothing to do with contract talks going on between the administration and the police unions.
“In the interest of public safety, we would never divulge information regarding our policing strategies or deployment under any circumstances,” Coley said Monday, Feb. 22. “What we can assure the public is that the city has full coverage and there is no backlog in services to our citizens. Per standard employment practices, officers who were believed to be feigning illness were sent to the city’s medical officer for evaluation.”
Capt. Mike Allman is one of the officers who called out sick and had to visit the department-approved medical officer at Immedicenter in Bloomfield. He also happens to be a member of the Fraternal Order of Police and Policemen’s Benevolent Association unions, as well as a member of the Fraternal Order of Police Contract Negotiation Team currently engaged in contract talks with the Taylor administration.
“I agree with the unions’ position that the EOPD is committed to the mayor’s vision and mission of East Orange being an example of urban excellence and a destination city,” Allman said Monday, Feb. 22. “We only ask for a fair contract and would not condone a sickout. I was out sick from my doctor, but I was sent to the police physician at the Immedicenter in Bloomfield by the Police Department.”
According to Allman and other East Orange Police Department union officials, such as Sgt. Elaine Settle, the president of PBA Local 16, and Sgt. Flanagan, the president of FOP Local 188, there was no sickout Friday, Feb. 19. They did acknowledge, however, the ongoing contract negotiations with the Taylor administration seem to be at the same point as at the end of 2015 when they and members of the city’s other unions came to consecutive City Council meetings on Dec. 14 and 28, to make the Irvington City Council members aware of their situations.
On Monday, Dec. 14, Bennie Brantley, an employee in the city’s Public Works Department who also serves as the president of CWA Local 1077 of AFL-CIO District 1, and Firefighter Garrett Winn, the president of FMBA Local 23 of the East Orange Fire Department, showed up at the council’s meeting. Brantley said he attended the meeting with CWA and AFL-CIO District 1 staff representative Jenelle Blackmon, in order to draw attention to his union’s plight in their ongoing negotiations with the Taylor administration.
On Monday, Dec. 28, Settle and Flanagan showed up at the council meeting to let the council members know that their unions were also experiencing difficulties in their ongoing contract negotiations with the Taylor administration. Since then, Taylor and the CWA Local 1077 have reached an agreement on a new contract that promised to raise the average employee pay rate to $15 per hour.
Both Brantley and Taylor said the new agreement provides for flat, “across the board” increases of $500 and $750 respectively the first two years, and then 2 percent, 2.25 percent and 2.5 percent. According to Hetty Rosenstein, the CWA director for New Jersey, “One of the best features of this agreement is the provision that phases in a minimum wage of $15 per hour by the end of the contract.”
But as the Record-Transcript went to press this week, there were still no new contract deals for both the East Orange Police or Fire department unions.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman said she is ready to listen to what the unions have to say if they come before the council. Holman serves and chairperson of the council’s Public Safety Committee, and as the governing body’s official liaison to the East Orange Police and Fire departments.
“I believe they are reaching out for assistance and it is my understanding that there is a meeting to be scheduled for this week with the city and the two remaining unions that need to be settled,” said Holman on Monday, Feb. 22. “They know that the council has a negotiating team … led by the chairman, Ted Green, and four other members of council. The team can assist in hopes of getting the city and the unions to sit in good faith and try to work out a good contract that is feasible for both sides.
“At the end of the day, the council also has to vote on the agreed contract, which the unions are well aware of. City Council would like to see fair contracts across the board and it is my hope and belief that the administration is working to do so with the last three unions.”