As contract negotiations continue with EOPD, ‘sickout’ denied

EAST ORANGE, NJ — Members of the East Orange Police Department are considering coming to the next City Council meeting Monday, March 14, to let the governing body know how upset they are about ongoing contract negotiations with Mayor Lester Taylor’s administration, said Capt. Mike Allman, a member of the EOPD Fraternal Order of Police Local 188 and Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 16, on Monday, Feb. 29.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman, the chairperson of the council’s Public Safety Committee and official liaison to the Police and Fire departments, said she and her council colleagues are always willing to listen to whatever the city’s union has to say because they provide the actual services their constituents need.

“They know that the council has a negotiating team within City Council, which is led by the Chairman Ted Green and four other members of council,” said Holman on Tuesday, March 1. “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.”

“It’s a process, so a union or union members going to the City Council does not offend me,” said Taylor on Monday, Feb. 22. “They’re doing what they think they have to do on behalf of their constituents or their member.”

If the union joins Allman in coming to the council meeting on Monday, March 14, that would be the second time since Dec. 28 that police unions have come out in force to a council meeting during the current contract talks. At that time, the city was still engaged in contract talks with the Communications Workers of America and East Orange Fire Department’s Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association unions, too.

Since then, the Taylor administration ratified a new contract with the members of CWA Local 1077 that includes incremental wage increases designed to increase the minimum wage in East Orange to $15 an hour that represents approximately 400 city employees.

Bennie Brantley is an employee in the city’s Public Works Department who also serves as the President of CWA Local 1077 of AFL-CIO District 1. He had some advice for his union brothers and sisters in the EOPD and EOFD about striking a fair deal with the Taylor administration.

“We always think about another labor organization, another union because the thing we have in common is the word ‘unity’ which means ‘one’ because what affects one affects all,” said Brantley on Friday, Feb. 19, at the Essex County Democratic Committee’s annual Labor Breakfast.

“My advice is that, with collective bargaining, there’s a give and take. It’s not one side gives and the other side takes. You have to find a happy medium that both sides can live with. You don’t always get everything you want and the other side doesn’t get everything they want either, but you have to find a way to find a happy medium that you both can live with and agree to hopefully reach that goal that each side is looking for.”

Brantley added that collective bargaining is a process and requires patience from all sides involved.

“It may not happen the first time. It may happen gradually down the road that each side will reach the full goal that they’re looking for,” Brantley said. “The object is to get a fair deal and sometimes it happens smoothly and sometimes it’s a rough battle. As Chairman Leroy Jones quoted Frederick Douglass: ‘There is no progress without struggle.’ That’s always been true, even before Frederick Douglass said it.”

The Taylor administration said there hasn’t been any freeze on East Orange Police Department salary or wage increases. However, the same can’t be said for rookies and second-year firefighters who are members of FMBA Local 23; they came out twice at the end of 2015 to complain about the apparent freeze on their salaries.

On Tuesday, March 1, FMBA Local 23 President Garrett Winn said his firefighters have not been paid what is due them as part of their established incremental salary steps process.

“We feel like the city is using it as a bargaining tool,” Winn said Tuesday, Dec. 14. “We would like these guys to be paid. It’s in the contract. The rookie class should have been paid their first step. The class that came before them should have gotten their second step.”

Allman, who is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police contract negotiation team currently engaged in talks with the Taylor administration, was one of the East Orange police officers who called out sick from work Friday, Feb. 19. As many as 86 police officers reportedly called out sick that day, although Taylor and other city officials refused to confirm this was an act of protest.

Taylor said he is a friend to unions and his administration is committed to the established collective bargaining process. He emphasized the ongoing contract negotiations with the East Orange Police Department unions are a part of that process.

“There is no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ said Taylor on Thursday, Feb. 4, when he announced his administration’s ratification of a new contract with the Communications Workers of America Local 1077 that represents approximately 400 city of East Orange employees, on the same day Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assemblyman John Wisniewski introduced legislation in Trenton that calls for increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. “I respect the collective bargaining process. I respect the right of workers to organize. I’m an advocate for their interests and what they think is fair.”

Taylor said, however, as the city’s chief executive officer, he has to set aside his personal feelings about unions and the good work they do in order to make the best decisions for his taxpaying constituents, not just those working for the city.

“East Orange has already demonstrated support for this $15 an hour minimum wage increase and we will continue to support smart legislation that provides long-term benefits to strengthen working families in our communities,” Taylor said. “So the administration and, through the budget process, the City Council are involved in setting parameters for the negotiations, which includes financial and salary parameters. As the executive for the city, I also have to take into account the interests and the financial constraints of the municipality and taxpayers who are funding all of our collective salaries.”

On Monday, Feb. 22, Taylor said there had been no sickout and that he would make sure there is no disruption in police services throughout the negotiation process.

“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 behind the work absences were, they had nothing to do with contract talks. She also said the city would never publicize any manpower shortages for any reasons so as to protect the citizens of East Orange.

“In the interest of public safety, we would never divulge information regarding our policing strategies or deployment under any circumstances,” said Coley on Monday, Feb. 22.


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