PATERSON, NJ - As city police officers began receiving layoff notices on Feb. 28, the president of the Policemen's Benevolent Association said the union is willing to resume discussions on possible contract concessions to avert the terminations.
The city is moving ahead on a plan to terminate 125 officers effective April 18 and demote 34 others as officials grapple with a budget crisis that already has resulted in 29-percent increase in property tax bills issued in early February.
Municipal officials say they have asked the police union to consider contract concessions - including pay cuts, deferred payments, changes in work shifts and a shorter work week - as a way to avoid the layoffs. But the union had broken off those talks back in January.
Now, its presidents says, the union is ready to return to the bargaining table.
Olimpio said the union is willing to begin negotiations today. "We're going to wait for them to call us,'' he said.
"I am happy to learn that the PBA is willing to sit down with the administration and the governing body in hopes of bringing about meaningful concessions to help with this budget,'' said Councilman Kenneth Morris, chairman of the finance committee. "I only wish these conversations would have happened a lot earlier in the process.''
Morris said he believed the layoff notices are what prompted the union to return to the bargaining table and said the administration should have acted on them much sooner to force the union's hand before so much of the fiscal year had elapsed. "I can understand the union's position in this: 'Where's your stick?'" Morris said.
Mayor Jeffrey Jones said he would prefer contract concessions over layoffs.
"If we find a way that we can come to a happy medium, sure,'' said Jones. But, he added, time was short, with a state-imposed budget adoption deadline of March 15.
The developments on policed contract talks came as State Senator John Girgenti issued a statement urging Governor Chris Christie and the Paterson police union to take steps to avoid the layoff plan that he warned could "have a potentially disastrous effect on public safety in the city.''
Girgenti said the Christie administration was " tying Mayor Jeff Jones and the City Council’s hands and forcing them to fire or demote 159 officers'' as a condition of $22 million in state transitional aid given to Paterson.
The senator, who is chairman of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, also called on the police union to consider contract concessions to avert the layoffs.
“I’m calling on the state, city and the police union to come back to the negotiating table and find a common sense solution that will save these officers’ jobs and allow them to continue serving and protecting Paterson,'' said Girgenti. " I would hope the Governor is not playing politics with public safety to advance an anti-union political agenda. Paterson needs these officers on the streets protecting residents and fighting crime.''
"The police union must be given the written guarantees it needs to ensure good-faith negotiations," Girgenti continued. "If union concessions need to be made then they should, but the Governor mandating steep layoffs as a condition of municipal aid is simply unconscionable and will seriously harm the quality of life for Paterson residents.”
The layoffs would save less than $1 million in this year's budget, partly because three-quarters of the fiscal year already have passed. Any savings achieved through contract concessions also would have limited impact this year because of the time-frame. But officials have said they would rather cuts police spending through concessions rather than layoffs.
One of city officials' targets has been a work schedule that has officers working four straight days and then having four days off. City council members have insisted Paterson would save money by eliminating that schedule, which was agreed upon in previous labor contracts.
But Olimpio called those assertions "lies,'' arguing that the four-on, four-off schedule does not increase the city's expenses.