In a report released last week by the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation, several municipalities throughout the state were flagged for giving their municipal employees benefits that they said were examples of “waste and abuse” during harsh economic times.
The nearly 50-page report identified both Union City and West New York for having unfair employee perks.
The mayors of both towns said last week that those perks were part of contracts negotiated during past administrations, and can’t be changed until those contracts are negotiated again.
The report identified both UC and WNY as having wasteful spending benefit practices.
“These are just some of the findings of the State Commission of Investigation’s latest probe of waste, excess and abuse in public employee benefit programs,” said the report. “At a time of economic distress unprecedented since the Great Depression – with government budgets depleted and austerity the theme of the day even in the private sector – the gravy train continues to roll without impediment for select groups of employees on the public payroll.”
A paid day off for Christmas shopping and more
According to the report, in Union City, municipal employees receive one paid day off to go shopping for Christmas gifts.
“In Union City, all civilian municipal employees receive one day’s leave at full pay every year for Christmas shopping,” stated the report. “As stated explicitly in the contract between the city and the Union City Employees Association, ‘each permanent employee shall have one personal day as a Christmas Shopping Day preceding the Christmas holidays’. . . .”’
The report continued: “This is in addition to five other personal days, 16 paid holidays – including a half-day each on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve – and, depending on length of service with the city, between 10 and 25 vacation days annually.”
The report went on to say that Union City municipal employees received payment for not taking sick days off, and also got bonuses if they used only one or two sick days in a year.
And after they retire, they can get compensation for the days they didn’t use.
The report stated: “In Union City, civilian employees qualify for a $200 cash stipend for using no sick leave in a year, $150 for using only one sick day and $100 for using just two sick days.”
West New York is mentioned too
The West New York Police Department was criticized for allowing paid time off to employees who participated in baptisms and other forms of religious events.
“Meanwhile, police officers in West New York receive time off not only for weddings but also for Baptisms, Confirmations, and First Holy Communions, provided they take an active role in the ceremony,” read the report.
The report noted that a similar privilege appears in the contract for the Hoboken Police Department.
Response from UC and WNY
“The holiday shopping day privilege was negotiated as part of a contract by a previous administration,” said Union City Mayor Brian Stack through his spokesman Mark Albiez. “Currently, Union City is in the process of re-negotiating the municipal contract to put an end to this practice, as we continue to take actions that reflect fiscal responsibility, such as reducing the payroll when necessary and terminating non-essential services. Government must seek ways to conserve and ensure that taxes remain stable while providing adequate services.”
“A lot of this is reviewing procedures and contracts that have been given out throughout the years through the bargaining process,” said West New York Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega last week at a swearing in meeting of new police director Albert Bringa. “Obviously some of these issues have to be negotiated out of the contracts, but many of them won’t even be able to be entertained until those contracts are up.”
Vega then added: “None of that language has been placed in contracts during my tenure as mayor, but we are looking at that report. And if in any way we can change some of those issues, we will.”
The state report went on to say, “Just as there is no state law or regulation in New Jersey that prohibits exorbitant payouts and perks for local public employees, there is no law or regulation that explicitly authorizes and shields excessive benefits, either.”
However, it did commend the municipalities of Flemington, Morris County, Point Pleasant, Teaneck, and Vineland for their efforts toward fiscal responsibility when it came to providing employee benefits.
The report also went on the make seven recommendations to improve the situation which included establishing standards for local government employee practices, setting uniform limits on employee leave, and eliminating terminal leave.
Terminal leave is when an employee about to retire accumulates enough time off that allows them to take weeks and even months off work right before retiring, while still being paid their full salary.
Melissa Rappaport may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org