EO councilwoman says contracts could be settled soon

EAST ORANGE, NJ — On the eve of Independence Day, Mayor Lester Taylor’s administration is preparing to settle its ongoing contract negotiations with the East Orange Fire and Police departments. According to 5th Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman, who is chairwoman of City Council’s Public Safety Committee, the city has already settled a new contract for the Fire Department.

“The Fire Department is completely done,” said Holman on Saturday, June 18. “When it gets to us, it’s done, because all the council had to do is vote on it.”

After that, Holman said, council should be on track to settle the police department, too, hopefully before July 4. Attempts to verify Holman’s remarks with the leadership of FMBA Local 23, which represents the rank-and-file members of the fire department, were unsuccessful by press time this week.

Members of the Police Department’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 111, Superior Officers Association and Policemen’s Benevolent Association are not allowed to give comments to the press or media.

Holman, however, said she may discuss ongoing contract negotiations between the administration and union bargaining units, but not the specific details of those discussions.

“We just had a personnel (committee) meeting yesterday, Friday, June 17, and I’m going to tell you what was told to me by the administration via the business administrator,” said Holman. “It was stated that they were at the table. I think there was one issue left to be discussed and I can’t recall what that issue was, but they’re all very close to being tied up — the supervisors anyway.”

Once the East Orange Fire and Police department supervisors’ contracts are settled, Holman said that only leaves one bargaining unit in East Orange involved in active negotiations with the Taylor administration.

Back in February, the city ratified a new contract with the Communications Workers of America Local 1077.

“The only thing that is left is the (Communications Workers of America union) crossing guards,” said Holman. “And that was because, for some reason, the CWA were separate. What delayed that, from my understanding from the administration, is we had to put that together. So they’re on the way to being settled as well.”

The council recently approved the $138,194,520 Calendar Year 2016 budget at its regular meeting Monday, June 6. Earlier this year, when Taylor introduced the budget at the council’s regular meeting on Monday, March 28, 3rd Ward Councilwoman Quilla Talmadge, chairwoman of the council’s finance committee, said the city had enough money set aside in its reserve fund to settle the contract negotiations between the city and the police and fire unions.

Talmadge’s remarks at the time begged the question: If the city has the money to settle the contracts with the unions, why didn’t the Taylor administration do so?

“That was my question and I think it’s more than just the money,” said Holman. “I think there were some other issues that were being worked out, which the supervisors were looking for, as well as the rank-and-file. And I think the supervisors are closer to settling than the rank-and-file.”

“From what was explained to me yesterday in the personnel committee meeting, we’re close to settling … for the supervisors. And for the rank-and-file, I understand they want to go back and have further discussions. So there is maybe a little more delay.”

Holman said she doesn’t know what is preventing the Taylor administration from settling the EOPD rank-and-file contract talks, saying, “I’m fine with the fact they are working on it, but they need to move the process along and get it all settled.”

“And let me say this about the contracts also: From the ones I have reviewed that have been settled and from listening to some of the talks, I have to be honest and say that they look pretty good, in comparison to what they’ve gotten before under the former administration; these are some of the best contracts that they’ve ever gotten,” said Holman. “I know, for a fact, the CWA, this is the best one that they’ve ever gotten since I’ve been serving. If the police supervisors’ contracts go the way that I think that it is going, I think theirs will be one of the best ones that they’ve ever gotten. The same for the fire department.”

Both the mayor and Benny Brantley, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1077, said the new agreement between the city and the union provides for flat 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 an hour by the end of the contract.”

City and union officials said the new CWA contract includes the creation of a labor-management committee to explore how provisions in the Affordable Care Act can reduce overall healthcare costs, such as developing robust primary care using direct primary care medical homes.

Brantley could not be reached for comment about the pending contract negotiation settlements between the Taylor administration and East Orange’s other bargaining units by press time this week.

Attempts to get a quote from Taylor about the impending EOFD and EOPD contract settlements were also unsuccessful by press time this week; however, in the past, the mayor has gone on the record stating his respect for the collective-bargaining process and employee unions.

“There is no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ 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,” said Taylor on Thursday, Feb. 4, as organized labor and union members across New Jersey and other parts of the country were rallying in support of increasing the minimum wage to $15. “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 the CWA contract puts East Orange “in the forefront of a labor movement that is progressively gaining momentum locally, statewide and throughout the nation,” referring to the introduction of legislation into the state Assembly in February calling for increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“We have streamlined processes and cut spending without sacrificing the quality of our programs,” said Taylor on Tuesday, June 21. “In fact, we have enhanced our programming and generated revenue. I can’t say it enough — East Orange has a dynamic team of men and women who are cooperatively working to set the standard for urban excellence and make East Orange a destination city.”