Staring out at a sea of red shirts, the Hoboken City Council faced over a hundred city workers who came to express their frustrations over the city’s budget gap and the layoff notices sent to 79 municipal employees.
For over 90 minutes, roughly 20 members of the Municipal Employees Association, Municipal Supervisors Association, and members of the public spoke about the effect the layoffs would have on the city and the lives of city residents.
“I will share with all of you just a little bit about the people that have been targeted by this administration,” said Municipal Employees Association President Diane Nieves through tears.
“You targeted a single mother with a disabled child,” she said. “You targeted and employees with ailments who still fight to come to work every day. You targeted entire offices with no thought in your mind of the inconvenience that [this] will be to the constituents of this city. You targeted several people who were ready to retire this year. 60 percent of the targeted employees are women. You targeted an employee whose spouse is fighting cancer. I am that employee.”
She wasn’t the only one, either. City health department employee Gina O’Connor, who has multiple sclerosis, received a layoff notice even though she said she does her best to come to work every day and do her job.
Nieves said the city could eliminate entire departments, as layoff notices were sent all the employees of the Rent Leveling and Stabilization Office, noting that that would have consequences which residents in need of assistance would bear the brunt of. According to municipal court employee Chrys Cooper, the entire court staff has also been noticed.
“When you issue tickets, who’s gonna handle it?” said Cooper. “What happens if we all just walk out one day, of the courtroom? What’s gonna happen? You’re gonna have no money coming in from those fines.”
Employee of 26 years and Municipal Supervisors Association Vice President Dawn DeLorenzo said she and other longtime employees were “targeted” by the administration.
“We are being targeted because we are born and raised people and that is a fact! … Look at that list: that list was orchestrated, it was planned, it was devised, and in some cases, it was planned so the person doesn’t even have bumping rights,” she said.
“Bumping” is the right of a senior employee to replace a less senior employee in a particular role for which both employees are qualified, which would result in the less senior employee being laid off instead.
”I don’t know how people could go to bed at night and put their damn head on a pillow knowing that you are cutting people out like they are just God damn pieces of paper..” said DeLorenzo who additionally noted the majority of employees noticed were women.
2020 Budget gap
The city faces a budget gap between $7.4 million and $13 million this year.
According to a Dec. 17 memo from then-Business Administrator Stephen Marks, the gap is due to a variety of factors, including an anticipated increase in employee medical benefits of about $1.5 million; a state-issued pension bill which is $578,345 higher than last year; and anticipated increases in salary for all of the city’s six municipal labor unions currently in negotiations.
This is compounded by revenue shortfalls such as an estimated $300,000 loss in municipal court fines; a debt service increase of $600,000; departmental budget requests of $642,000; increases in solid waste disposal fees of $100,000; and an increase in the Joint Insurance Fund premiums of $87,000.
This also does not include the lack of surplus regeneration which impacts the budget. The city routinely uses a portion of it’s surplus as revenues in the municipal budget.
Health insurance switch
In an attempt to help save jobs, the council unanimously approved a resolution urging the administration to switch from a self-insured plan to the state insurance plan, should all municipal unions agree.
Currently, 91 percent of all New Jersey municipalities participate in the state insurance plan, NJ Direct 10, which resolution sponsor Councilman Michael DeFusco said would save the city $6.5 million.
According to Director of Operations for the city and acting Business Administrator Jason Freeman, the city has offered the bargaining units a “mirror plan” through their insurance provider.
He said this plan could be better for the city, as the plan could start immediately while the state plan couldn’t begin for at least 120 days. Union leaders disagreed, shouting that they wanted the state plan, noting that the city would still have to pay a third party to administer the mirror plan.
The council also approved a resolution that aims to freeze city spending in a 8-1 vote.
The resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, requests that the mayor and the administration refrain from spending on any action, project, or event that would be considered “new” or not a recurring item until the 2020 budget is adopted by the city council.
Councilman Phil Cohen voted against the resolution.
He did attempt to introduce a resolution during new business, calling for all council members that are not self-employed to give up their city health benefits, which he said could save up to $118,000.
In order for the resolution to be introduced in new business a partner resolution declaring the introduction to the agenda an emergency had to be introduced. But the emergency resolution failed in a 3-6 vote. Councilmembers Emily Jabbour, Jim Doyle, and Cohen voted for the resolution declaring it an emergency.
As the emergency resolution failed, the introductory ordinance could not be introduced for a vote.
Cohen said he will introduce it at the next council meeting.