Newark Mayor Ras Baraka escalated the war of words between his administration and the city firefighter and police unions over a recent change in health benefits today, writing a fiery opinion piece first published in TAPinto Newark that lambastes and lacerates his union opponents for using what he terms "scare tactics" and "misinformation" in the ongoing battle.
"No retirees have lost their benefits. The union members at the [Aug. 2] council meeting were parroting some of the misinformation they have been fed by their union leaders," Baraka said. "I don’t know why the police and fire union leaders are using scare tactics and distorting the truth in a desperate attempt to block the transfer of city employees and retirees into the [State Health Benefits Program]."
"They were dead wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth," Baraka added.
In response to the op-ed, Capt. John J. Chrystal III, president of the Newark Police Superior Officers' Association, said the unions are only attempting to enforce a collective bargaining agreement.
"A deal is a deal," Chrystal said. "However, the mayor does not like to abide by the agreements or fess up to the short comings of his administration. The mayor's claim that transferring to the SHBP will save the taxpayers money is a lie."
Baraka referenced one skirmish in the struggle between his administration and the fire and police unions about the Aug. 1 shift to the SHBP, a move the city claims will save taxpayers millions.
However, Chrystal disputed the notion that the city would save any money.
"By switching to the SHBP, the city is shifting $14 million from the 2017 budget to the 2018 budget," Chrystal said. "It still has to be paid. It's like transferring a credit card balance. The mayor is kicking the can down the road."
For many active and retired employees, the question of whether they actually have health insurance remains uncertain at best, with firefighter and police members experiencing problems getting their health care benefits after Aug. 1.
A recent series of letters, obtained by TAPinto Newark and provided by the city to TAPinto Newark, outlines additional details of each side's argument.
In his op-ed article, Baraka presents a list of 10 "facts that [the fire and police unions] don't want the people of Newark to know."
Baraka's claims include that more than 90 percent of the police and fire retirees live outside of Newark. In response, Chrystal said, "so what?"
They also include a detailed list of both of what he asserts are the high costs generated by fire and police union employees, including their benefits, as well as the savings that will be generated by moving to the state plan instead of maintaining the status quo.
In his op-ed, Baraka also criticized members of the police and fire unions for leaving with severance payments, paid by the city’s taxpayers, of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"These are entitled benefits, mostly for accrued overtime on the books, rather than being paid," Chrystal said. "Police and fire do not receive sick time payouts. The city could have paid members at the time but it did not. Under state and federal laws, it's the employer’s responsibility to maintain time records."
Baraka, in his op-ed, called the shift to the SHBP a win-win.
"Perhaps someone can explain the real reason why the union leaders oppose a win-win plan that will save taxpayers millions of dollars while guaranteeing that union employees and retirees will receive the same benefits that they are now receiving," Baraka said. "I am waiting for the answer."
However, Chrystal said the mayor is attempting to cloud the issues and is not being forthright.
"As the Mayor of the City of Newark, he has a duty to abide by the law and agreements," Chrystal said.