Not the same old story

With the help of the NJSPBA, DCJ Local 383 has started a new chapter with the hope of continuing to improve working conditions with a new contract

By Mitchell Krugel 

From left, NJSPBA Executive Vice President Pete Andreyev, DCJ Local 383 President Jason Volpe, Local 383 member Alex Burkhardt, NJSPBA Labor Relations Coordinator Mike Freeman and NJSPBA President Pat Colligan at the plaque presentation.

Turning the page for the Division of Criminal Justice Local 383 members has been an ongoing endeavor. But how they have reaped improvements in compensation, benefits and working conditions has become a modern-day NJ State PBA success story.

When we last left you, Local 383 was coming off a PERC election in 2019 to become a PBA collective bargaining unit. They were working to improve on a 4.3 percent total pay increase spread over four years, which wasn’t enough to keep up with cost of living. And there had not been a promotion of any members from Detective 1 to Detective 2 in the previous eight years.

An exodus from the division tantamount to what happened when Moses parted the Red Sea was brewing. Detectives had already started defecting to county prosecutors’ offices and other agencies.

The latest chapter for Local 383 tells a different kind of story.

“We were losing anywhere between eight and 10 detectives a year, but the attrition levels have significantly decreased,” reported Local 383 President Jason Volpe. “More people than ever are looking at this place as a long-term place to work. Of course, there’s obviously always little things going on, but generally speaking, our members are very happy.”

Happiness for Local 383 members is what they have received from the PBA’s legal protection, health benefits access, labor relations expertise, legislative muscle and political action connections and interaction. Volpe noted that when DCJ detectives became PBA members in late 2019, they believed their affiliation would change their lives.

“They’re instrumental with us working on our new contract. Using the resources from the State PBA to basically make sure our concerns were heard amongst the state definitely is keeping members here,” he continued. “It’s been life-changing for all of us. I mean members are able to pay their mortgages now.”

The DCJ detectives in Local 383 often have a longtime detective looking in on them who happens to be the NJSPBA President Pat Colligan. Prior to the April state meeting, Colligan was relating the latest story about how Local 383 had taken in detectives working for the NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (OHSP) and provided them life-changing collective bargaining representation.

Local 383 members have also benefited from Colligan and Executive Vice President Pete Andreyev taking time to speak to their boss. You know, the attorney general.

And Local 383 State Delegate Ross Portner related how Colligan extended an invitation to be part of the meeting held after state meetings with the State Delegates from the 21 county prosecutors’ officers. That networking has helped Local 383 navigate many of the issues they share with detectives at the county prosecutor level.

“From the State PBA’s executive board, we’ve received a lot of assistance as it relates to a lot of different questions that we have, collective bargaining-wise or resources-wise,” Portner confirmed. “They’ve been a tremendous help even with speaking to our administration, and the higher level staff at the attorney general’s office. They’ve been in touch with them from time to time when we have certain issues that rise to that level. So really, anything that we’ve needed, questions that we’ve had or clarification that we’ve needed, they always have the answers for.”

Local 383 is now looking to take all the support and momentum into negotiation for a new contract and try do to so without a gap after the current one expires on June 30. The Local has already submitted a proposal for a new contract in an effort to prevent having to work without a contract.

Beyond maintaining compensation levels that will continue to enable DCJ detectives to make a salary competitive with other county prosecutors, Local 383 is proposing upgrades outside of economic issues that will keep the agency moving forward. One of these will create a better on-call situation for detectives so they can respond to officer-involved shootings and other incidents more effectively and fairly.

“If we get these into our new contract, it will go a lot further in improving work performance and boosting the morale of the agency,” Portner submitted.

A big asset Local 383 brings to the negotiating mix is that the agency’s administration has seen a boost from the union representation. This has resulted in DCJ being able to attract a higher caliber of job applicants than what it was like three years ago when the agency seemed to be filling openings with anybody who applied.

“Our chief has actually credited the union with the amount of new hires that they’ve been able to bring on,” Portner added. “We’ve already seen this because we’re able to be more selective in our applicants considering our contract now is attracting significantly more people to come. I think over the next couple of years, we’ll even see more of that come to the forefront.”

The advancements set the table for OHSP detectives to improve their benefits and working conditions. They were caught in a bit of tug of war with being DCJ detectives but not having any collective bargaining rights. For the past 20 years, any changes in the work environment would basically be done with phone calls and little more than handshake agreements.

So the State PBA leadership stepped in to work with attorney Frank Crivelli, who represents Local 383, to change some legislative parameters and get a PERC card check set up for OHSP detectives. They signed with 100 percent consensus to become full dues-paying members with a feeling that, “Wow, somebody’s actually fighting for us.”

“That’s an accurate description. We definitely feel vindicated,” stated Alex Burckhardt, an OHSP detective who has helped his colleagues as a point person for Local 383. “One of the more renowned impacts of this is how supportive the State PBA and Local 383 has been. They have fully embraced all 28 of us and it has been wholeheartedly, overwhelmingly positive.”

Oh, things are not perfect, just like any Local. The DCJ members would like to remove their at-will status, which they are working on with Crivelli and NJSPBA Director of Government Affairs Rob Nixon. And there is a high alert on making salary and benefits keep up with county prosecutors and other agencies so Local 383 members don’t have cause to look elsewhere.

Right now, that appears to be the last thing on their minds.

“Generally speaking, from the last time you talked with us to now, it’s a way different environment,” Volpe noted. “We’re a different
type of a staff there. Members are involved in the meetings. They want to know what’s going on. They’re excited about what the future holds.”