Linden comes to terms with cops, will not have layoffs

LINDEN — It’s over. Monday night, city police voted 57 to 26 in favor of an agreement that will prevent 20 to 30 officers from being laid off Aug. 1.

The agreement between the two will go a long way to reducing the $1.2 million the city is over the cap, but not all.
Furloughs and a garbage tax was thought to be a given if the city was going to be able to slash all of the $1.2 million, but the latest word is these particular issues are “still being debated.”

The agreement came after months of wrangling and misunderstandings by both the city and police as they struggled to strike some kind of a deal between the police and city. As the days dwindled and it became more apparent the city would have to move forward with laying off police, neither seemed willing to bend until this week. But both sides agreed they were happy the long siege was over.

“I’m just glad we were able to work out an agreement in the best interest of our officers and the city of Linden,” said PBA Local 42 President Joe Birch, a detective in the Linden Police force. Mayor Rich Gerbounka was equally pleased, given the number of officers that would have lost their jobs as of Aug. 1.

“We appreciate the hard work of Joe Birch and hopefully now we can move forward and dig ourselves out of this mess,” said the mayor, adding that the “deal-maker” was the PBA agreeing to an extra year on their contract until 2014.

“Without that extra year in their contract we would have seen massive layoffs in the police department,” the mayor said. He also noted that four of the six recruits the city was paying to attend the police academy will be brought aboard as previously planned prior to the the $1.2 million shortage.

Two of the six were snapped up by Rahway after it became apparent last month that Linden would not be able to offer the recruits positions as promised.

Although the governing body had yet to approve the agreement with the police, Tuesday morning Gerbounka said all council members were in favor of the concessions made on both sides and were ready to put their stamp of approval on the measure that evening.

The extra year, though, does have limitations. Although all officers agreed to delay their raises, it works out that only senior officers, those with more than eight years experience, will see a 1.9 percent raise in July 2014. All other members of the force will see incremental raises according to the eight step increment departmental process in effect.

Another hitch is that even though the police added a year on to their contract, the city can only guarantee there will not be any layoffs until July 2014.

“We can’t guarantee their jobs after that,” Gerbounka said, explaining that part of the agreement with the PBA and superior officers union was that there would not be any layoffs until that time.

The mayor preferred to call the give and take on both sides “deferments” rather than concessions, and he did note that in the end “this comes out a wash for the city.”

Coming into play in the one year contract extension as of Jan. 1 2014 is the fact every employee, including all those in the police department, superiors officers included, have to begin paying 1.5 percent of their salary towards their health benefits.
This was state mandated by Gov. Chris Christie and went into effect in 2012, but was not applicable initially for all public employees, especially if they were unionized.

Meanwhile the issue of furloughs for the remainder of city employees is up in the air. Tuesday, Gerbounka said several members of council were not convinced furloughing city employees one day a week was the answer to the fiscal problems the city is having.

“We are still debating that issue and hopefully we will iron it all out one way or another,” Gerbounka said.

The mayor and council are also still “debating” whether to charge property owners a fee for garbage removal. Although last week it appeared this was a go, this week the matter still had not received the council’s approval.