Police and fire union members showed up in force at a recent Municipal Council meeting to complain that union retirees have lost their health benefits because the city is transitioning employees to the State Health Benefits Plan (SHBP).
They were dead wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.
No retirees have lost their benefits. The union members at the council meeting were parroting some of the misinformation they have been fed by their union leaders.
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 SHBP.
I can't understand why these union leaders are working so hard to maintain the status quo when the transfer will save taxpayers millions of dollars while guaranteeing that employees and retirees will receive the same benefits that they are now receiving.
We are seeing the same irrationality that has led police union leaders to go to court against creation of a police civilian review board, precisely the wrong move at a time when trust and cooperation is growing between Newark's police and the residents they serve.
In order to counter the scare tactics and campaign of misinformation being waged by the police and fire union leaders, I am presenting the facts that they don't want the people of Newark to know:
- More than 90 percent of the police and fire retirees live outside of Newark.
- Actively employed members of police and fire unions receive, on average, a total compensation package exceeding $150,000 annually.
- The cost to provide health insurance for active and retirees was $104 million last year.
- To maintain the same plan this year the city would have been required to spend $13 million more. This would cost the average homeowner an additional $375.
- Under the State Health Benefits Program, retirees and their families will continue to receive nearly free health coverage for life. Despite that, police and fire unions are complaining that they may now have to pay postage to seek reimbursement. In addition to the city providing retirees with a generous pension and lifetime health benefits the city also reimburses retirees for Part B Medicare premiums, the reimbursement can be as much as $4,600 annually.
- The cost for active employees will not increase in 2018 and the cost for retirees will actually decrease by 4 percent as a result of joining the state plan. The move to the the state plan is a financially prudent initiative that saves money for employees and taxpayers as well.
- We cannot allow heath costs to bankrupt the city and drive property taxes further through the roof. Heath care costs consume nearly 18 percent of the city’s operations budget. The city is committed to honoring its labor contracts and we are also committed to keeping Newark affordable for residents.
- It is not uncommon for members of the police and fire unions to leave with severance payments, paid by the city’s taxpayers, of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- My administration was forced by the courts recently to pay former police officers for accrued time they allegedly had on the books and earned under the previous administration. During the period when this time was accrued, supervision of police hours was lax and its accuracy questionable.
- The courts required the city to pay one retiree $389,533 for accrued time; another was paid $277,269 and three others were paid nearly $150,000 each and yet another retiree is claiming that he has earned accrued time worth more than $500,000. Many of these accruals took place at the same time that the U.S. Attorney was finding that that police officers were routinely violating the civil rights of the same people who pay their salaries.
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.
I am waiting for the answer.
Ras Baraka is the mayor of Newark.
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