HOBOKEN, NJ —After months of looming municipal layoffs due to an estimated $14 million budgetary shortfall, the City of Hoboken announced that 26 employees would lose their jobs.
The announcement itself was made as part of Mayor Ravi Bhalla's April 17 COVID-19 update, saying, "Like many other municipalities, states, and organizations across the United States, COVID-19 has had a major impact on the City of Hoboken and its finances. The City has taken on additional new costs to protect the health and safety of residents, while also realizing substantial losses in revenue due to the crisis.” Bhalla added, “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 that I’ve communicated about previously.”
Outcry has been swift and deeply critical of the Administration's handling of the layoffs. The Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association announced earlier this week that it has sent a 59-page letter to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission accusing Bhalla and his administration of negligence in their handling of the layoffs.
Brian Aloia, Corporation Counsel for the City of Hoboken, responded to news of the letter, saying, "The City will vigorously defend its position and is confident it will prevail in the court of law.”
The Hoboken Municipal Employees Association has since issued a statement, decrying the manner in which the layoffs were executed.
"At a time when people should be focusing on staying healthy, Hoboken Municipal employees are now faced with the reality that they will no longer have their jobs or the security of knowing that after the COVID-19 crisis dies down, they have job security in which to return. Other employees who were not laid off were forced to retire, some after dedicating 34 plus years of service," said Lynette Medeiros, Vice President of Hoboken Municipal Employees Association. "Those employees have served Hoboken during some of the darkest times and never wavered in dedication. Employees had come to work when the City was literally burning to the ground, during hurricanes, snowstorms, and even pandemics. They were rewarded with not even a sentiment or a thank you."
Medieros alleges the Hoboken has not allowed the terminated employees into the building to retrieve personal effects. "In fact, all they received was a callous letter that stated the City would ship their belongings FEDEX, or they should arrive at City Hall in order to return any items that are property of the City."
Hoboken Fourth Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos expressed his disappointment with the entire process.
"Was extremely sad, frustrated and angry to hear that hard-working Hoboken employees were given an ultimatum to either retire or be laid off. These are dedicated employees that earned the right to be treated in a respectful and responsible way," said Ramos, via social media.
"I know times are difficult for everyone right now but for this decision to be made without presenting a budget to the public is totally unacceptable. The employees deserved to have all information available to them so they can make an informed decision but unfortunately that did not happen."
Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo also had critical words for the Administration's handling of the layoffs.
"The entire process has been one of confusion and uncertainty. I, as well as other council members, have repeatedly asked for budget information. Thankfully I have recently received most of my request but can not process the information to save these dedicated employees in time for our self-imposed deadline. I am begging and praying that we can somehow, someway delay this timeline."
Russo adds, "These employees who have dedicated their lives to the City of Hoboken, in these most uncertain times, were not provided with the essential information to make decisions for their own well-being. In a time that we should be coming together to lift everyone up, I’m begging! Please save our most dedicated employees who are our friends our neighbors and our Hoboken family."
Among the ideas floated to avoid layoffs was dipping even further into Hoboken's municipal surplus to cover the shortfalls from on court fines, investments, debt service increase (bond repayments), departmental budget increases, higher waste disposal fees, and an increase in New Jersey’s Joint Insurance Fund premiums.
Hoboken's next City Council meeting is Wednesday, May 6.
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