As we approach the New Year I’ve been reading the doomsday scenarios about the expiration of the 2% arbitration cap: furloughs, layoffs, reduction in services, $400 million in pension liabilities and somebody even suggested the possible end of Meals on Wheels! But the biggest political lie in arguments for extending the cap is that public safety salaries are the cause of higher taxes. And, while politicians often add a compassionate and seemingly sincere sentence about appreciating the danger and hard work of our police and firefighters, they continue to lie to taxpayers about taxes.
The lies are a stunt by politicians looking to place blame away from themselves for decades of increasing taxes and on the backs of law enforcement officers and firefighters, all of whom had their right to a work stoppage legislated away by these same politicians. That’s right, it is violation of the law for public safety officers to strike.
I’ve read the Arbitration “Report” that nobody seems to have written despite my multiple OPRA requests (read that here). Since politicians and their spin machines aren’t being truthful, I will be.
The reality underlying all of this is that arbitration caps do not control or reduce property taxes and there is no correlation between the cap and taxes since the cap was instituted. Just look at the Public Employment Relations Commission’s (PERC’s) own website and review the numbers over the last 25 years.
The facts show that Arbitrations were rare prior to the cap law. Voluntary contract settlements were moving closer to 2% and lower without the law. This movement happened because local law enforcement officers and firefighters have conceded millions in savings by cutting longevity, lowering salaries and adding additional steps for public safety officers to reach top pay.
In addition, municipalities have seen health benefit costs offset by Chapter 78 contributions and reductions in their pension costs for several years and municipal taxes have still not gone down. By the way, these offsets to healthcare and pension costs were deducted directly from police and fire salaries. Year after year our members and their families are being unfairly targeted and punished for municipal mismanagement which results in more money for politicians to waste while they remain incapable of cutting taxes. False rhetoric and amped up rallies with political opportunists will not change that fact.
These truths have been difficult to find in this debate. Earler this month, I read a quote from columnist Fred Snowflack: “That arbitrator often times awarded annual wage hikes of 4, or 5, percent, sometimes more.” Horrible fact to be sure Fred…but you failed to tell the reader that “fact” goes back to 1994!
I could go on and on but despite being vilified by just about every elected official I still have the Holiday spirit and want to give elected officials a holiday gift. This is a gift that will last long after you open it. In fact, this is a gift card with NO EXPIRATION!
So, what’s the gift? New Jersey Statute 34:13A-16. Look it up, there is no expiration date and its use is unlimited!
Since nobody seems to be admitting it exists please let me explain it. I’m not an attorney but any municipal labor attorney may realize I’m onto something. It’s basically nine statutory criteria an arbitrator must consider before issuing an award. It’s the LAW and each municipality has the right to appeal if they don’t agree with it! While there’s a lot more to the statute, I’ll sum the criteria up in laymen’s terms:
- The interests and welfare of the public.
- Comparison of the wages, salaries, hours, and conditions of employment.
- The overall compensation and all other economic benefits received.
- Stipulations of the parties.
- The lawful authority of the employer and the limitations imposed upon the employer.
- The financial impact on the governing unit, its residents, the limitations imposed upon the local unit’s property tax levy. (There is a lot more to this one in the statute!)
- The cost of living. (What a novel idea. NOT a permanent cap on it!)
- The continuity and stability of employment. Traditionally considered in the determination of wages, hours, and conditions of employment through collective negotiations and collective bargaining between the parties in the public service and in private employment.
- Statutory restrictions imposed on the employer.
You have to admit, that’s a pretty comprehensive list of criteria. In fact, it debunks most of those doomsday scenarios being spread around. I’ll say it again because it bears repeating; it’s the law and it does not expire. If it did, I’d say you have a valid gripe.
Please don’t say I never gave you anything! Happy Holidays and a safe and prosperous New Year for all.
Pat Colligan is the President of the New Jersey Police Benevolent Association (PBA).