EO firefighters waiting for what city owes them contractually

EAST ORANGE, NJ — Although East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor has reached a contract agreement with the city’s largest employee union, negotiations are still continuing with other unions.

According to 5th Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman, chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, as well as a member of the its Finance and Negotiation committees, the members of the Fire Department’s FMBA Local 23 are still up in arms about rookies and second-year firefighters not being paid what the city contractually owes them.

“Why would you hold the steps for the firefighters that they have earned, as per the old contract?” Holman asked Tuesday, Jan. 19, after she confirmed the Taylor administration had reached an amicable contract agreement with the Communications Workers of America Local 1077 union and its approximately 400 city employees. “I have been and always will be one who supports fairness and equality of wages. They earned it and via contract should be paid.”

Holman said the city should pay the East Orange Fire Department’s rookies and second-year firefighters what they are owed contractually, something Firefighter Garrett Winn, FMBA Local 23 president, said is the right thing to do.

“Our biggest problem is we have two classes of firefighter rookies and second year guys that aren’t being paid what they are due,” Winn said at the council meeting on Monday, Dec. 14. “The majority of them are younger guys that should be getting paid for the work they have done and are doing. That’s 3 to 4 months of checks that these guys have not been getting.”

Winn said the city is contractually obligated to pay rookies and second year firefighters for the seven incremental steps they are supposed to take before they can get to the top level of pay. He said the “first step is your probationary step, then the next step is your rookie step, and then you get an increase each year, for the next five to six years, until you reach your top pay, which would be your top salary.”

So far, he said the rookies and second year firefighters have not been paid what the city owes them.
“We feel like the city is using it as a bargaining tool,” Winn said at the council meeting. “We would like these guys to be paid. It’s in the contract. The rookie class should have been paid their first step. The class that came before them should have gotten their second step. We’re just asking if you guys can help work that out.”

When Taylor announced the agreement with CWA Local 1077, he also said his administration was in the process of trying to reach agreements with FMBA Local 23 and the members of the East Orange Police Department’s Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 16 and Fraternal Order of Police Local 188. The members of those unions came to the council’s meeting Monday, Dec. 28, to let council members know how their negotiations with the administration were going at that time.

“We’re continually in collective negotiations; that’s the nature of the business we’re in,” Taylor said on Monday, Jan. 18, after he revealed his administration had reached a new contract agreement with CWA Local 1077 during the city’s and East Orange Clergy Association’s annual Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service at Mt. Olive Baptist Church on Ashland Avenue. “They always say (in) the art of compromise in a perfect settlement, both sides are a little bit unhappy. I think it’s a process and I respect organized labor.”