In voting to approve the four agreements with the Bayonne Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the Police Superior Officers Association, the Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, and the Fire Superior Officers Association, the City Council secured an annual savings of about $400,000 from healthcare costs, and gave an 8-percent increase to each group over the five-and- a-half-year contracts or about a 1.8 percent annual increase in wages.
The five-and-a- half-year contract also realigns this with the changed municipal budget year which went from a fiscal year to a calendar year in 2011. The new contracts expired on Dec. 31, 2018.
Mayor Mark Smith sent the four labor agreements to the municipal council for its approval at the Oct. 18 meeting, marking what officials called “a historic first” in that four contracts were successfully negotiated and settled at the same time.
According to city officials, these agreements advance Smith’s goals of controlling municipal expenses while maintaining high levels of municipal service.
Negotiations, according to Bayonne Business Administrator Steve Gallo, began prior to the expiration of the previous contracts on July 1, 2013.
Gallo said the unions and the city’s negotiation team met regularly from April 2013 until they finalized the contracts just prior to the Oct. 18 council meeting.
The new contracts run from July 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2018 and include no salary increase for the first year as well as the final 18 months of the agreement. Over the 5.5-year life of the agreement, police and fire fighters will get an 8-percent increase. The unions also agreed to accept a less expensive health insurance plan under the New Jersey State Benefits Plan Direct 20/30 which will save about $400,000 each year.
The health plan was discussed early in the negotiations with the unions seeking to maintain a quality health plan at a reasonable cost, since members pay one third of the premium.
While discussions were sometimes spirited, Gallo said dialogue was always respectful and productive.
Smith said both the police and fire unions came to the negotiating table in good faith with an understanding of the city’s financial constraints.
“In these difficult economic times, our police and fire union officials understood that we would need to work together to get new collective bargaining agreements finalized,” Smith said. “They offered some creative suggestions about how we could save money and improve efficiency. I have to commend them for their willingness to work together with my administration to resolve these contracts.”
Smith said protracted negotiations were not good for either side.
“I learned that during my time as PBA union official,” he said. “In balancing the needs of our citizens with the needs of our employees, I think we have arrived at a fair and equitable result that we can all be proud of.”
Council President Terrence Ruane called this “unprecedented,” and said that much can be done if all the parties remain reasonable in their wants. He said the police are doing a good job as well.
“Crime statistics are down and the department has expanded its reach into the community,” he said.
Ruane credited the mayor with setting the tone for the negotiations, and also noted that the current leadership of the police and fire departments were “homegrown” and had come up through the ranks.
“Our relationship with them is strong, and everybody came to the table in good faith,” Ruane said.
Councilman Joseph Hurley said the contract means 30 months at zero increase and averages out to 1.4 percent increase for each year of the contract.
“This helps the citizens of our city and shows a reasonable approach and an understanding of these economic times,” Hurley said. “The unions saw the picture for what it is. The [settling] of these contracts allows us to move ahead with confidence. We can now plan ahead. Public safety is one of the biggest parts of the municipal budget.”
Councilwoman Debra Czerwienski said this is a benefit to everyone. Councilman Ray Greaves, himself a union official, said he knows what it is like to sit on either side of the table.
“This shows how we were all able to work together,” he said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.