North Bergen officials and the township police's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association have reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year labor contract that will provide pay increases of 3.5 percent each year, all the way to the maximum pay increases that the law allows for non-superior officers. The members of the North Bergen PBA Local 18 will vote on the new contract, which will be in place until Dec. 31, 2003, at the organization's next meeting on May 11. The officers have been working without a contract since Dec. 31, 1999. Unlike the previous contract negotiations, which dragged on for two years after an impasse and the bringing in of a state-imposed arbitrator at high legal costs, the two sides came to a fairly rapid and amicable agreement. "The township is a major benefactor, because we avoided very costly legal fees [that we would have had to spend] if a mediator and an arbitrator had been necessary," said Township Administrator Joseph Auriemma. "This puts everyone in a nice situation and allows us to go about our regular business. We now have a labor contract that will last for four years and we don't have to worry about contract negotiations during that period. We can concentrate our efforts on other issues elsewhere in the town. It's a fair deal, within the realm of the cost of living increases." PBA Attorney John Young agreed. "I felt that everyone was happy to reach an agreement in such a short period of time," said Young, who estimated the savings in legal fees to exceed $100,000. "Although most of the officers have yet to see the contract, without getting into specifics, we have met the proposals that were on the table when the negotiations started. This was extremely amicable, considering the last contract that expired in 1996 wasn't ratified until 1998." Young added, "I think the animosity surrounding those negotiations were fresh in everyone's minds and gave everyone the motivation to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. I don't think anyone wanted to go to arbitration. I think everyone wanted to resolve it before it got that far again." Under the terms of the new agreement, the yearly salary for a non-commissioned patrol officer in his sixth year on the job would go from the current $53,000 to a little more than $60,000 annually during the time span of the contract. Most of the officers already on the job have spent three years on the force, so time served was a major factor. Flat fee
One concession that the PBA gave to the township in the negotiation process, in terms of educational pay advancement, was that officers will now receive a one-time flat fee instead of percentage pay increases for advanced education status. An officer who possesses an Associate's degree would receive $450; a Bachelor's degree would bring $900; a Master's degree, $1,200; and a doctorate, $1,500. The concession only affects new officers hired after the contract is ratified. "That is a big saving to the township," Auriemma said. "Our two main interests were salaries and the college incentives. With the flat fee, you are still rewarding those with educational advancement, but it's nowhere near what it would cost with a percentage fee. It's very fair." "Except for the changes made for educational incentives, it's basically exactly the same as the old contract," Young said. During the course of the negotiations, the township's superior officers decided to break away from the PBA and form their own Superior Officers Association to handle their contract negotiations separately. No agreement has been reached between the township and the new SOA, and negotiations are ongoing. Although there is no correlation between the contract agreement and the recent agreement the township reached with the National Alliance for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) regarding minority hirings, the township can now get back to the business of hiring new police officers. The NAACP had a court-imposed injunction on all hirings until an agreement was reached. Since the township has agreed to pool its hiring list with that of Jersey City to find more black police officers, the hiring freeze has been lifted. Auriemma said that the township plans to have as many as 20 new police officers hired as early as June.