On May 7, 26 Hoboken municipal employees are set to lose their jobs due to an expanding multi-million-dollar budget gap. But municipal union representatives are fighting back, seeking to have the state’s civil service commission revoke its approval of the layoffs.
“It is our firm belief that the layoff list presented by Mayor Bhalla was contrived, orchestrated and planned to target individual employees,” saidMunicipal Supervisors Association (HMSA) President Dawn De Lorenzo.
“The Hoboken City Council recently passed a measure asking the administration to suspend all layoffs until a budget was submitted for review, but instead the mayor has ignored this directive to protect the jobs of his current political appointments with the long-term goal of giving taxpayers’ jobs to his other political allies.
“A number of our members are being forced into an early retirement at a time when their institutional knowledge of city operations is so desperately needed to keep Hoboken running efficiently,” she went on. “None of these people deserve to feel like they are being punished and treated like a piece of garbage, and that is exactly what this administration is doing, tossing them to the curb.”
The HMSA makes up half of the 26 employees to be laid off. Attorneys for HMSA sent a 59-page letter to New Jersey Civil Service Commission (NJSSM) Chair Deidre L. Webster Cobb on April 22 alleging that the city violated proper procedures.
The letter alleges that the city did not show preference to veterans, failed to offer alternative employment options to those who would be laid off, did not disclose facts that contradict the city’s need to terminate employees, and failed to separate non-permanent employees before terminating permanent employees, among other allegations.
According to the letter, three veterans are scheduled to be laid off, and government employers are required to offer them preference for retentions and hold a hearing before they can be terminated.
The letter also claims the city did not disclose available surplus funds as well as potential savings if the city changed insurance and prescription plans.
“The almost nine million dollars in savings achieved by NJ Direct 10 and CIGNA far outweigh the savings the city hopes to achieve through the layoff of approximately 30 positions,” states the letter. “The salary for those positions total approximately $2.2 million.”
Finally, the letter claims the Office of Constituent Affairs (OCA) and the city’s Engineering Department are “unnecessary expenditure[s]” stating that the OCA was created to employ political allies.
“In its layoff plan, the City failed to reveal that at the very same time it sought approval for layoffs of long-term City employees, it created, and funded $96, 000 to a new department within the Mayor’ s office called the ‘Office of Constituent Services,’ the letter alleges. “This department was created solely to provide employment to two individuals politically connected to the Mayor.”
“I cannot sleep at night because I’m constantly worried about my members,” De Lorenzo said. “I take all their pain and suffering to heart, and I wish I could say the same for the Mayor and his administration.”
Hoboken’s Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia said, “The city will vigorously defend its position and is confident it will prevail in the court of law.”
In February, the city sent general layoff notices to 79 city employees because the city was facing an up to $14 million budget gap due to increases in employee medical benefits, state-issued pension bill increases, anticipated increases in salary for the city’s six municipal labor unions, as well as revenue shortfalls, and depleted surplus funds.
After employees flooded city council chambers to express their ire at the layoffs in March, on April 17 in a Nixle alert to constituents, Mayor Ravi Bhalla announced 26 of the 79 employees, or 4 percent of the city’s staff, would be laid off, citing the impact of the pandemic as an added difficulty making layoffs “unavoidable.”
“The negative budgetary issues from COVID-19 and an additional anticipated loss of revenue in the weeks and months to come, compounds an already difficult budget for this year…,” he said in the alert. “While my administration has been working tirelessly to address previous budgetary challenges and has made progress to this effect, the pandemic and our fiscal standing makes it extremely difficult to withstand such a major impact without layoffs in City Hall.”
“I hold a responsibility to the taxpayers of Hoboken to do everything possible to mitigate a large tax increase due to these factors and must act on that obligation,” he continued. “I recognize the impact this decision will have on some of our employees and their families, and we will do everything possible to assist them with their next steps. During these challenging times, unfortunately, difficult decisions have to be made to protect the long term fiscal health of our City.”
On April 21, Bhalla said the pandemic has had a significant impact on Hoboken’s finances, stating that revenues from mid-March to mid-April decreased by more than $1 million compared to the same time last year, adding that this did not include COVID-19 expenses such as testing, disinfecting of senior and Hoboken Housing Authority buildings, seniors meals, and additional public safety costs.
The city has not yet introduced a municipal budget because it’s awaiting guidance from the state, and won’t introduce a budget until later this year.