Collective Wisdom

This year’s seminar provides the education and information that compels members to keep coming back

Many of the members who attended came back to the seminar because it provides the timeliest information on collective bargaining and labor relations.

Second row center, just off the left aisle of the ballroom at Harrah’s in Atlantic City where the NJSPBA conducted its 34th annual collective bargaining seminar, Mercer County Corrections Local 167 members hold their position. State Delegate Winslow Land, the state PBA treasurer, takes this seat on the aisle every year, anchoring the new slate of members who have accompanied him.

For several years now, Land has been rotating members to the three-day session he believes gives them everything they need to know to achieve a safe and prosperous law enforcement career. Amirah Harmon was one of the Local 167 first-timers this year, and she reacted to having sessions and tutorials related to unfair labor practices, law enforcement officers’ rights, social media use, Chapter 78 contributions, workers’ compensation, navigating Brady/Giglio, negotiating health benefits, qualified immunity, disability pensions, costing out a contact and more.

“I’m going back and talking about everything,” Harmon responded when asked about the download of information presented. “I am going back over the presentations on my own time to get some things I really think will be important for our members to know.”

Her most prominent exposure to the state PBA led Harmon to a very powerful conclusion about the power of the collective bargaining seminar.

“I’d say the PBA is strong,” she added. “The seminar is very informative in trying to get the information back to the members.”

The 34th presentation of the NJSPBA Collective Bargaining Seminar on Feb. 8-10 at Harrah’s once again burst at the seams with the most up-to-date data in and around labor relations. In fact, the session has truly evolved into a global view of labor relations, helping PBA Locals learn how accumulate voluminous wisdom by learning at the hands of the state’s foremost experts.

“We’re not here to learn how to screw the town,” announced PBA Labor Relations Coordinator Mike Freeman, who annually elevates the seminar to a level Locals need to experience every year. And bring new members to every year.

“We’re here to find a path to labor harmony,” Freeman continued. “To learn how to be the most professional law enforcement officers. To keep taxpayers happy. To have knowledge and network to rely on. To teach you how to run your Local and be self-sufficient.”

Evidence of the timeliness coursing through this year’s seminar came with a great concentration of information about the maladies of law enforcement using social media and COVID’s impact on disability, worker’s comp and sick leave, among other issues. It confirmed that the seminar is more than information, it is education.

Attending any year or every year also reminds members that the education pertains to them personally and affects their paychecks. Bringing younger members is especially beneficial because, let’s face it, some Local leaders are on the brink of retirement. The next wave needs to know what goes into a contract or what’s involved in filing a grievance.

More members might want to take a cue from Union County Corrections Local 199 member Hasanna Adams. Despite 30 years on the job and despite her facility getting set to close, Adams wanted to see this collective bargaining thing up close and personal.

“Very knowledgeable,” she confirmed. “Very informational.”

Attorney Stuart Alterman speaks about officers’ rights.

The PBA supplied all attendees with a QR code to access a Dropbox folder where PowerPoints and other source material from most of the presentations could be accessed. Still, the soundtrack to the seminar included keyboards clicking to record observations and cellphone cameras snapping to capture displays of crucial information on one of the big screens flanking either side of the presenter’s podium.

Local 199 State Delegate Doug Wynn made a return to the seminar to absorb information and observations to meet his members’ demands.

“I’ve got to get more knowledge and I learn more just being here,” he explained. “I always prepare because members are going to ask you a lot of stuff. So I need to know the things they want to know. They always ask, so I have to be ready.”

Thinking outside the box shows up in many seminar presentations because it is a vital tactic in collective bargaining. In 2021, the PBA went outside the box to invite Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri to address members and show how his office works with officers rather than be adversarial.

Attorney Robert Fagella presents the opening session.

Onofri came back this year and shared the podium with Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey. Looking at an audience filled with a lot of friends from her county and detectives from her office, Linskey emphasized how the prosecutor can help a member navigate a successful career.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that prosecutors are approachable and that we want to have conversations and open dialogue,” Linskey added. “We absolutely have to work hand in hand. And I just think it’s vital to keep those lines of communication open.”

This year’s seminar featured a break in convention when attorney Bob Fagella made the opening presentation. Typically, Paul Kleinbaum, his partner at Zazzali, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum & Friedman, handles the opening statement.

But Fagella has been to all 34 collective bargaining seminars and his opening remarks stated why it has become so well-attended.

“It’s clear that the knowledge you have is more sophisticated than when it started,” Fagella noted. “It’s a credit to the PBA.”

Fagella educated members about unfair labor practices and the ins and outs of the NJ Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). From his experience, he advised Locals to be cautious and calculated about taking contracts to PERC for arbitration.

“If you can work out a deal with your employer, always do it,” he commented. “The arbitration process is time-consuming, expensive, uncertain and you can spend the time and money and lose. Any settlement that is reasonably satisfying – or not overly dissatisfying – is probably good.”

NJSPBA Labor Relations Coordinator Mike Freeman introducing to his right attorneys Frank Crivelli, Donald Barbati and Michael DeRose.

The three days were filled similar pearls of wisdom. Some of the highlights included:

  • Stuart Alterman and his colleagues from Alterman & Associates, Arthur Murray and Timothy Prol, offering detailed advice about officers’ rights. One statement advised, “If you hear the words, ‘You have the right to remain silent in an IA or at an inquiry, say, “Thank you” and don’t say anything,” Alterman submitted. “And you can’t lie. You might not remember everything from a critical incident, which is normal. But don’t lie. We can get you out of a lot of things, but we can’t get you out of that one.”
  • When speaking about Chapter 78 contribution reductions, Frank Crivelli and his partners, Donald Barbati and Michael DeRose, revealed that doing a deep dive into the township’s books can find that they collect excessive premiums from officers. If there is a refund on those premiums, negotiate it into the contract that the Local should get a portion of the return.
  • Jim Mets and Len Schiro from the firm Mets Schiro & McGovern, LLC hit members with a bunch of nuggets about the contract negotiations process. They advocated that every Local’s negotiating team should have a designated observer – more than one, if possible – to keep an eye on the other side and look for tells about where they might be willing to give in or accept a proposal.

The most energetic wakeup call seemed to come from attorney Peter Paris of Beckett & Paris, LLC, who hit members with a talk on “Me-First Policing.” The session devoted to social media posting resonated with many members because it presented information about the issues law enforcement officers have had speaking their minds going back to the 19th century.

Members of the NJSPA Collective Bargaining Committee.

Paris advised that when members post on social media they have no First Amendment rights. He added that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that as public employees, “You must accept limitations on your freedoms because when you are speaking about official duties, you are not speaking as citizens expressing their constitutional rights.”

A former law enforcement officer, Paris ultimately submitted advice that every attendee should have brought back to share with Local members.

“The most likely threats to you are not a gun or knife,” he detailed. “It’s your phone or your big mouth. So when it comes to social media, don’t hit send.”