EAST ORANGE, NJ — On Thursday, Feb. 4, as union members throughout New Jersey were rallying in support of increasing the minimum wage to $15, East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor announced the ratification of the city’s new contract with the approximately 400 members of the Communications Workers of America Local 1077.
Taylor said the completion of a ratified contract agreement would benefit East Orange municipal workers and the residents of East Orange, adding the contract runs until December 2018 and includes some innovative provisions.
“This contract agreement proves that collective bargaining results in creative solutions to complex problems,” said Taylor on Thursday, Feb. 4. “The CWA brings fresh ideas to the table as alternatives to cost-shifting and I am anxious to see what we will be able to do together.”
City officials said the new CWA contract includes the creation of an innovative 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. Local 177 President Bennie Brantley said he and his members “are very pleased with the results” of the new labor agreement.
Brantley also said he was very impressed by Taylor’s commitment to collective bargaining.
“When we were deadlocked, the mayor came to the table himself and helped to move everyone closer to settlement,” Brantley said Thursday, Feb. 4. “The mayor was a catalyst in reaching this fair collective bargaining agreement. It’s not a rich deal, but it’s a fair deal.”
Both Brantley and Taylor said the new agreement provides for flat, across-the-board increases of $500 and $750 respectively the first two years, followed by increases of 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.”
“There aren’t a lot of workers who fall into this category, but for those who do, this provides them with a living wage,” Rosenstein said on Thursday, Feb. 4. “CWA applauds the mayor for his foresight in making sure that people who live and work in East Orange are paid a living wage.”
Taylor said he couldn’t do anything less, since he is the product of a union family. He said his father was a union member for many years and coming from a working class he understands the vital and essential role organized labor continues to play in the U.S. economy.
“It wasn’t just me; I want to thank Benny Brantley, the president of CWA Local 1077, as well as Hetty Rosenstein for their leadership and partnership with the city of East Orange in reaching a fair agreement,” Taylor said. “I think that was the intent from the beginning. 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. 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 new CWA contract puts East Orange “in the forefront of a labor movement that is progressively gaining momentum locally, statewide and throughout the nation.” He was referring to the introduction of legislation on Thursday, Feb. 4, that calls for increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“East Orange has already demonstrated support for this increase and we will continue to support smart legislation that provides long-term benefits to strengthen working families in our communities,” Taylor said. “As the executive for the city, I also have to take into account the interests and the financial constraints of the municipality and taxpayers who are funding all of our collective salaries. But with that being said, I was involved with negotiations from the beginning. Not at the table per se, but being aware of what the process was. It’s just that, a process. So a union or union members going to the City Council does not offend me. They’re doing what they think they have to do on behalf of their constituents or their member.”
Taylor said he can appreciate Brantley and Rosenstein’s efforts on behalf of CWA Local 1077 members. He said he hopes it will serve as a model for the kind of cooperation he believes in necessary to fulfill his vision of transforming East Orange into a destination city that is a model of urban excellence.
“What I do appreciate more than that is the fact the CWA, in particular, took me up on me extending my hand to them; me opening my door to them to sit down and have a business-like and professional meeting, which resulted in an amicable agreement that not only is fair to both sides but also quite frankly sets a precedent or standard that I think other cities and states can and should model, which is putting our money where our mouth is,” Taylor said.
“We hear a lot of people advocating for a $15 an hour age for hourly workers. They’re requesting the private sector do that. East Orange from a public standpoint is doing that. We’re setting the standard, so that our employees can afford to have a roof over their heads; can afford to save; can afford to reinvest in this community; which helps grow not only our economy, but the middle class. It also helps attract and retain hardworking, committed workers.”