Jersey City’s police and fire unions may be close to finalizing revised contracts with the city.
Two city sources and the city’s assistant business administrator, Bob Kakoleski, confirmed last week that the amended contracts call for raises totaling approximately 11 percent over the next four years, as opposed to 13.2 percent in the contracts originally proposed.
The City Council rejected contracts last month that had been negotiated over the past year, after state aid cuts forced municipalities to tighten their budgets.
“There was some urgency to get back to the table.” – Bob Kakoleski
The initial police and fire contracts both offered 3 percent retroactive raises for 2009, 3.3 percent in 2010, 3.4 percent in 2011, and 3.5 percent in 2012. The contracts also called for – and still do call for – police officers and firefighters to contribute more for their health care than previously, a move which was estimated to save millions for the city.
When the contracts were voted down by the council at an April 14 meeting, it led to yelling and rancor from police officers. Only Councilman Mariano Vega voted for the contracts. Other council members said they would not grant uniformed personnel a large pay raise when other city employees have been forced to take unpaid furloughs and layoffs. The city is also in the midst of a financial crisis, including a $42 million budget deficit and increased property taxes.
Following the rejection, representatives of the police and fire unions met with city officials and renegotiated.
Racing against time
But the amended contracts are not a done deal. They must be ratified by the police and fire unions and then voted on again by the council. The unions have scheduled a ratification vote by this weekend, and if the deals are accepted by the rank and file, the council will vote at the council meeting this Wednesday.
Last week, Jerry DeCicco, the president of the Jersey City Patrol Officers Benevolent Association (POBA), declined to comment on the amended contracts. He said he needed to wait for the council’s vote.
A representative from the firefighters union Local 1066 did not return a phone call for comment.
Kakoleski said despite the “initial anger” by the police officers and firefighters over not getting new contracts, both the city and the unions immediately resumed negotiations due to a deadline.
“There was some urgency to get back to the table,” Kakoleski said. “May 21 [was] an effective date when they would have to pay 1.5 percent toward their health benefits.” On that date, a new state law signed by Gov. Christopher Christie will require public sector employees whose contracts have already expired to start paying 1.5 percent of their salaries towards their health insurance. Both Jersey City police and fire unions’ contracts expired Dec. 31, 2008.
That’s also why Kakoleski doesn’t think the unions will reject the contract, since they are aware of the 1.5 percent clause. Although the amended contracts call for uniformed personnel to pay increased prescription drug co-payments, those increases will cost them less than 1.5 per cent of their salaries.
How will the City Council vote on the contracts?
City Councilman Michael Sottolano said he will wait for a formal presentation on the amended contracts before casting his vote. He added that it was an “excellent sign” that both sides went back into negotiations.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.