TC, police unions enter agreement for contract

The Township Council passed a Memorandum of Agreement with the West Orange Police Department unions, ending three years of contract negotiations, at its Oct. 6 meeting.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council approved a memorandum of agreement with West Orange PBA Local 25 and the West Orange Superior Officers Association at its Oct. 6 meeting, giving the police department a contract after three years of negotiations between the unions and the town. The resolution passed with a vote of 3-2; Councilman Joe Krakoviak and Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown both voted against the measure.

The contract retroactively runs from 2018 through 2022. Retiree health benefits are not part of the contract as the unions had hoped they would be; when officers retire from the department their health benefits will not be paid for by the town. Current active employees will retain health benefits upon retirement; employees hired after the signing of the contract will not. If an active employee dies, regardless of the hiring date, the town will pay for health benefits for a surviving spouse and eligible dependents.

Members of the department will receive 3-percent salary raises in each year from 2020 to 2022.

Line detectives will be paid a stipend of $1,750 in 2021 and $2,000 in 2022. Administrative detectives will receive a stipend of $750 in 2021 and $1,000 in 2022. According to the contract, beginning in 2021, on-call detective supervisors and on-call detectives will receive hours of on-call time off for each 24-hour period they are on call.

Beginning in 2021, police officers will be allotted 21 days of vacation time. Sergeants will be given 23 days, lieutenants 26 days and captains 29 days. Unused vacation days can be carried into the following year.

“This MOA is structurally very similar to previous agreements that we’ve had, particularly with the fire superiors,” CFO John Gross said at the meeting. “New hires will not receive health benefits in retirement, and, in exchange for that concession, the current police officers will not pay a contribution to health benefits in retirement. They’ll pay while they’re working.”

Business Administrator Jack Sayers said the amount of money the town will save in the long run will depend on how many police officers are hired in the next few years.

“We negotiated with them so that their new hires won’t be eligible for health benefits in retirement,” he said at the meeting. “That’s a big, big cost for the township. Obviously, it’s going to take us time to get a positive note on that, because it depends on how many people we hire over the next couple years.”

Krakoviak voted against the contract because he said the town will not save money for at least 25 years, depending on when new hires retire.

“Salary increases aside, we’re going to be paying $6 million in additional property taxes over the next 25 or 30 years for the potential to not have a much bigger, unfunded liability at the end of that rainbow,” he said at the meeting.

In a statement posted on Facebook on Oct. 7, Matute-Brown said she voted against the contract because of the impact it will have on taxpayers in the long term.

“While I am a supporter of unions as I believe they help maintain our middle class and serve as schools of democracy for its members in advocating for legislation to protect workers’ rights everywhere, I am also elected to advocate for the protections of our residents,” Matute-Brown wrote. “As such, my advocacy for a fair contract was never exclusive to our police and fire personnel, as a fair contract also includes our taxpayers. Hence my ‘no’ vote on the MOA.”

She pointed out that current employees will not have to pay contributions to their benefits when they retire.

“Our current employees, upon retirement, will not have to contribute towards their benefits. You as the taxpayer will have to pick up this added expense,” Matute-Brown said. “Because new hires will not be eligible for retirement for 30 years, we will not see a savings until that time, and, in the interim, we the taxpayers shoulder this burden.”

In a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Oct. 13, SOA President Michael Cassidy said that because the unions and town could not negotiate without leaving retiree health benefits out of the contract, the SOA and PBA accepted salary increases and other stipends that they believe would be of the same value. Still, the unions fear prospective officers will head to other police departments.

“We think this will hamper our ability to keep them,” Cassidy said. “New hires will be paid better and offered a better retirement package in other departments.”

PBA President Larry Dominguez said the unions presented options that the town did not want to accept.

“It was a lengthy process,” he said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Oct. 13. “We presented options we believe offered significant savings, and this is where we ended up.”