ORANGE, NJ — Orange Police Department’s Policeman’s Benevolent Association Local 89 came out in force to the City Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, March 1, to inform the city’s governing body about the state of their ongoing contract negotiations with Mayor Dwayne Warren’s administration.
“I’m on the executive board and we’ve been without a contract for seven years,” said police Officer Renny Wilson on Tuesday, March 1. “For over several years, we have won litigation and we have yet to receive these entitlements. Monies have been allocated for the entitlements; however, we never received them. We’re not greedy public employees. The city is getting bigger, and the Police Department and we need to know what’s going on.”
City Council President April Gaunt-Butler said contract negotiations with the Orange Police Department are a serious issue, even though the governing body is not involved with it, adding Warren’s administration handles negotiations with all the city’s public employee collective bargaining units.
Gaunt-Butler said the council only gets involved once the administration and a particular union have reached an agreement. Then, she said, it is up to the members of the governing body to approve the deal, since fiscal appropriation is part of their job as elected officials.
“The police officer made a statement that they have been without a contact for seven years,” said Gaunt-Butler on Tuesday, March 1. “He also said that there were monies set aside for the union contracts, but nothing was ever settled.”
Gaunt-Butler asked city attorney Dan Smith if what Wilson said, when he spoke during the public portion of the council meeting, was true and for him to give a brief update on the status of negotiations between the Warren administration and unions of the Orange Police Department.
“We are currently reviewing all the Police and Fire contracts,” said Smith on Tuesday, March 1. “Hopefully, we can find some resolution. I will try to get the information to the body by tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll be happy to further any information that the body requests.”
Gaunt-Butler said that sounded good, but it wasn’t enough. She pressed Smith to answer Wilson’s question about the status of the entitlements Orange Police Department union members are already supposed to have.
“The question they asked is why aren’t the current entitlements they already have in effect?” asked Gaunt-Butler. “If you can just keep us abreast.”
Smith said, “I’ll have to look into that.”
At that point, City Council Vice President Elroy Corbitt reminded everyone at the meeting, “I am the liaison to the Orange Police Department.”
North Ward Councilwoman Tency Eason suggested the entire council meet with union members of the Orange Police Department, not just Corbitt. Her son, Ike, is an Orange police officer who was recently promoted, despite the fact that Wilson and others said rank-and-file officers have been working without a contract for the last seven years.
In the four years Warren has been mayor, he has appointed his brother, Todd Warren, to serve as the city’s police director for an undisclosed salary.
“Set up meetings,” said Eason on Tuesday, March 1. “They want to meet with the whole body, not just a few members.”
At large Councilwoman Donna K. Williams is a union member in her full-time job, working for a union in New York City, and she advised her council colleagues not to interfere with the established collective bargaining process and ongoing contract negotiations between the Warren administration and the unions of the Orange Police Department by meeting separately with them, as Eason suggested.
“I would advise against that,” said Williams on Tuesday, March 1. “Direct calling and meeting with union members is not appropriate. I would encourage your group to use the bargaining process and use it to your advantage.”
East Ward Councilman Kerry Coley is a former Orange police officer who retired shortly before making his first run for elected office in 2014. He is currently running for mayor against Warren at the head of a slate of candidates, including Williams.
Coley said he could vouch for Wilson’s words about the Orange Police Department unions working without a contract for the last seven years, because he was still a member of the department at the time. He said something needs to be done to settle the outstanding union contracts with the Orange Police and Fire departments as soon as possible.
“I lived it and they’re still living it; This is just another way to string things out there,” Coley said on Tuesday, March 1. “I don’t know what the delays are. That should have been done months ago. When we were first sworn into office, we passed resolutions and budgets intended to settle these contract issues. We appropriated $500,000 in August 2014 to settle these contracts and it wasn’t done. The money was spent other places except for settling these contracts. What happened to that money?”