"It's a major relief. The long road is finally over and it's a great holiday gift for all our officers," said Sgt. Kenneth Ferrante, who addressed the council as president of the Hoboken Police Superior Officers Association (PSOA), which represents officers at the rank of sergeant or above.
Ferrante was joined at the meeting by over 60 off-duty officers, including a 23-year veteran patrolman, Emil Donofrio, who had had a pistol jabbed in his rib during an altercation with a robbery suspect in the projects only hours beforehand (see story, p.5).
The experience, which was mentioned by Ferrante in his speech to the council, illustrated the department's commitment and service to the community, as well as their daily risks.
"The police officers deserved these contracts to be ratified. They've been held up for a very long time, and I'm glad the council was able to come together and make the right decision," said Mayor David Roberts, who in the past had not always appeared to be as supportive of similar contracts.
There was some apparent hesitation from a few council members prior to their eventual endorsement of the contracts, which stemmed not so much on the actual content of the collective bargaining agreement, but rather the way in which it was handled.
Second Ward Councilwoman Elizabeth Mason and 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham both expressed their desire to have been more involved in the negotiation process. Both members were elected seven months ago.
Mason requested that the council table (hold over) the resolution until the first meeting of next year, so there would be more time to review it. However, no other councilperson seconded Mason's attempt.
Cunningham asked the police to be as tight with their budget as possible, since the largest percentage of the city's budget goes toward the public safety division, which encompasses both fire and police operations. However, both Mason and Cunningham made a point of expressing their admiration and support for the Police Department as well as their regret that the officers had to go without a contract for four years.
The contract only covers the period from Jan. 1, 2005 through Dec. 31, 2007, meaning that in a couple of weeks, the same parties will once again begin negotiations for next year's contract.
Still got raises each year
As a result of not having had a contract with the city since January of 2004, the police officers have not received scheduled raises, resulting in the city paying retroactive pay.
According to Business Administrator Richard England, the total cost of the new contracts to the city will be in the range of $2.2 million to $2.4 million.
The money is already figured into the current 2007-2008 city budget that has been proposed but not yet approved.
This is not to say that officers did not receive any increase in salary over the last four years. Every three years, officers received a 2 percent increase due to a policy called longevity steps. In addition, when an officer got promoted, they were entitled to a 12 percent increase in salary their first year, followed by 2 percent increases the subsequent two years.
The retroactive pay is a result of the officers' base salaries being stuck at the same level since January 2004, which at the time was between $28,000 for a patrolman who was brand new and $68,000 for a senior patrolman. Today, that salary has increased to a base of $32,000 and maximum of $80,000 for patrolmen. According to Ferrante, this places Hoboken police officers at about the average pay scale for police officers in Hudson County.
Before the salary increase, the police were some of the lowest paid in the county, Ferrante said, while they served in a city that is one of the county's wealthiest.
Although the city will be paying out the money that was owed in the short term, it will also be receiving more revenue in the future through a new agreement involving the use of the Outside Employment Program (OEP). Through the OEP, officers are tasked out to work for vendors in Hoboken, such as in the case of a construction company or PSE&G blocking off a certain area. The officer standing watch, though he is on duty, is actually on his own time, since he has already worked his 40 hours for the week. As a result, the vendor benefiting from the officer's presence pays the city, which in turn sends a check out to the officer.
Previously, the city would take only $4 an hour for administrative overhead. Now, under the new contract, the city will take $10 of the $65 paid to the officer by the vendor.
According to Ferrante, the municipality will put that $10 toward a fund to purchase new police vehicles every year, thereby offsetting operating costs in the city's public safety budget. Ferrante expects approximately $150,000 to be generated annually from this agreement.
Another change to the previous contract is the police unions' agreement to allow the city to test its members for steroid use, which the New York Police Department is also considering. Police are currently subject to unannounced drug tests throughout the year; however, they weren't tested for steroids. According to Ferrante, if an officer is found to be using an illegal controlled dangerous substance, they would face immediate suspension and the department would move to terminate them.
Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.