Firefighters unions agree to pay freeze, village to hire and promote within department

The South Orange Board of Trustees passed resolutions memorializing an agreement with the local firefighter unions on salary freezes to make up for budget shortfalls as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Board of Trustees passed two resolutions at a special meeting on Aug. 3, both memorandums of agreement with the local firefighters unions to enact a salary freeze through 2021 as a result of budget shortfalls caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Both FMBA Local 40 and FMBA Local 240 joined the South Orange Police Department’s Superior Officers Association and the Teamsters Union in making agreements with the village. The resolutions passed with a vote of 5-0; Trustee Karen Hartshorn Hilton was absent.

“It was very productive for us to have a dialogue with these unions,” South Orange Village President Sheena Collum said at the meeting. “We are expecting that we’re also going to be making some promotions in the near future and we’ll also be making some hires as well, to address some of the concerns that they raised, and we certainly share, about overtime.”

Collum, the BOT and village administration had been involved in tense negotiations with the fire unions over the last few months. At a BOT meeting on June 8, at which the board passed the 2020 municipal budget, Deputy Fire Chief Michael Commins said a pay freeze through 2022 would shortchange the department.

The agreement that the unions and the village came to instead freezes department salaries through 2021. Firefighters who are promoted will see salary increases, but at 2 percent less than what the increase would have been without the freeze. South Orange is also going to hire five new firefighters and promote two to captain.

“I certainly appreciate the unions coming to the table,” Collum said at the meeting. “This is now four out of five unions who have signed an agreement with the township in order to help some of our budget shortfalls.”

Trustee Donna Coallier thanked the union representatives who participated in the negotiations, as well as village administrator Adam Loehner.

“It’s really been an incredible process, and I think everybody involved has been learning a lot from the process,” she said at the meeting. “I’m pleased with the outcome and pleased that we have this robust process in place now.”

Steve Lenox, a spokesperson for the fire unions, declined to comment on the resolution in an email to the News-Record on Aug. 10, saying the unions would prefer to let the agreement speak for itself.

With the passing of the resolutions, the only union that has not yet come to an agreement with the village is police union PBA Local 12; a request for comment was not responded to by press time on Aug. 11.