SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The state associations representing South Orange police officers and fire fighters have issued a joint statement today denouncing the intention of the South Orange Board of Trustees — and Village President Sheena Collum in specific — to freeze their pay for the next two budget years.

“The Village President of South Orange, Sheena C. Collum has again chosen to put her ego, her social media accounts and her political interests ahead of public safety,” wrote Edwin Donnelly and Patrick Colligan, the respective presidents of the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association and the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association. “Her demand for South Orange police and firefighters to take pay cuts or lose their jobs while we still fight this pandemic is unconscionable.” 

The full statement, reproduced below, opened with the acknowledgement that “For many weeks now, the world has been under lockdown to prevent the spread of a dangerous virus. But all the while, New Jersey’s law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical professionals have been on the job. Our members have exposed themselves to the virus because that is their duty, despite the risk. That is what the people expect from us.”

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Village President Sheena Collum said at the May 11 board meeting — when the 2020 budget passed on first read —  “We put out a very, very reasonable, reasonable good faith offer of taking a two percent freeze,” for two years from the collective bargaining units. Non-union municipal employees are also having the pay freeze imposed. She said that if there was no memorandum of understanding reached then the Village attorneys would be instructed to move forward with layoffs and demotions. 

Employees in the Teamsters' bargaining unit, at Department of Public Works and other departments, have also been asked to accept the pay freeze or expect layoffs.

The FMBA and PBA sent their statement directly to the six members of the Board of Trustees, bypassing Collum; the unions asked the trustees to respond to the statement directly to the state leaders.

The police and fire unions were firm in their closing paragraph: “Determining staffing levels is outside the scope of the negotiating units’ (the unions) responsibilities. It is the sole responsibility of the administration. Make no mistake, any further reduction in staffing and the increased risks placed on the citizens and responders alike will be borne on members of the governing body and are actions you will have to answer for, including when the results turn tragic.”

TAPinto SOMA reached out to Collum for a comment. The story will be updated when she responds.

The budget will have its public hearing and second read at the Board of Trustees meeting on June 8.

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