EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor announced on Monday, Jan. 18, at the city of East Orange’s annual Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service at Mt. Olive Baptist Church on Ashland Avenue, that his administration has reached an amicable contract negotiation agreement with the members of Communication Workers of America Local 1077.
“I’m happy that, in the city of East Orange, we are leading by example,” Taylor said after giving the welcoming address at the event. “We just settled a contract with our CWA union. We’re going to phase in a $15-an-hour wage for all of our hourly workers. That is a movement that states and cities across this country are moving toward, so that people can have access to livable wage jobs and a good quality of life for their family.”
Taylor said, “The average median income for a family of four in the country to not be in poverty is $23,000. Factor in the cost of living in New Jersey (and) that same family of four needs between $65,000 and $75,000 to just not be poor, so we have to be sure that we create educational and economic opportunities, particularly for our people in the city of East Orange, with 65,000 residents that are 90 percent African-American and the majority of the rest of color.”
Taylor said although the CWA and the city’s other unions closed out 2015 by protesting at City Council meetings, there is not an adversarial relationship between the city and its employees.
“I think it’s a process and I respect organized labor; the rights of people to organize; and the collective bargaining process,” Taylor said. “I don’t look at them as whining or complaining. I look at them as advocating for the rights of their membership just as I — as a mayor — have to keep in the mind the rights of the 65,000 people that, quite frankly, are paying those salaries.”
“They always say, (in) the art of compromise in a perfect settlement, both sides are a little bit unhappy,” continued Taylor. “So in this agreement, while both sides didn’t get everything they wanted, we did reach a fair collective bargaining agreement.”
Bennie Brantley, an employee in the city’s Public Works Department and president of CWA Local 1077, agreed with Taylor about the outcome of the contract negotiation.
“The mayor was a catalyst in reaching this fair collective bargaining agreement,” Brantley said on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Now that his administration has finished the deal with CWA, Taylor said attention is going to shift to East Orange’s police and fire departments.
“We’re continually in collective negotiations; that’s the nature of the business we’re in,” Taylor said. “We want to make sure that we treat our workers fairly, but we also want to increase and enhance the quality of services that we provide to our constituents that I view as our customers.”
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman is tasked with multiple responsibilities; in addition to being a member of the council’s Finance Committee and Negotiation Committee, she serves as the head of the council’s Public Safety Committee and the liaison between the Fire Department, Police Department, Office of Emergency Management and the city’s other first responders and emergency service providers. Although the council does not have the power to negotiate deals with the city’s bargaining units — including the CWA, Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 16, Fraternal Order of Police Local 188 or the East Orange Fire Department’s FMBA Local 23 — that didn’t stop union representatives from coming to council meetings to air their concerns.
“I’m happy that CWA has resolved but will be even happier when all contracts are settled,” Holman said Tuesday, Jan. 19. “The administration is pushing council to pass raises for the administration, most of whom have been there for two years, but we can’t get contracts settled for those who have been through the trenches with the city, when we were struggling and we still are struggling. I’m not saying raises are not deserved, but I would like to see resolution that is fair across the board.”