On-the-Job Intel

A download of need-to-know information from the NJSPBA Collective Bargaining Seminar

By Mitchell Krugel and Esther Gonzales 
Photos by Ed Carattini Jr. 

The 2023 PBA Collective Bargaining Seminar was held at the Tropicana in Atlantic City, but the event turned it into “Topicana” with the reams of timely info being disseminated. Three days and a dozen presentations produced the book on LEO rights, career longevity, worker’s compensation, negotiating health benefits, the negotiations process, bargaining and arbitration, sick leave and vacation compensation, the grievance process, use of force rules of engagement and family and medical leave.

It used to be a book. Now it’s on a flash drive and in a Dropbox filled with all the information NJSPBA Locals need to secure and maintain the best benefits and rights for their members.

Once again, the collective bargaining seminar provided the Wiki on the wacky world of negotiating and administering contracts. From the experts’ presentations– the “Giveaways” – and chats with members who attended– the “Takeaways” – we’ve cultivated some topical statements, observations and learning events from the seminar.

The Giveaways

Of interest (arbitration): In contract negotiations, there have been only two interest arbitration awards the past year. Arbitration continues to be the last resort.

Leave it: Limitations on payment of accumulated sick leave and annual buybacks of sick leave continue in the face of the state law prohibiting them for anybody hired after 2010. Some jurisdictions allow it by contract provisions or past practice.

In confidence: No confidentiality is allowed between the member and the PBA rep when the member is being questioned about an incident. So let the members speak only to their LPP attorney. That’s when confidentiality applies. Don’t put yourself in a position where you could be called to testify about the incident in the administrative proceeding.

Pot shots: Law enforcement officers using cannabis continues to be an unresolved issue. There are parameters, guidelines and statutes. And then there are chiefs. All of these are interacting right now, and there is no definitive court decision. That’s the reason for the confusion so many people are feeling.

Yes, you cannabis: If you do test positive for cannabis, it doesn’t mean you were under the influence when you tested. And if it comes back positive, the theory of the law is that it would have to be proven you were under the influence on thejob. The question is, “When does it actually bleed into when you are on duty?”

This is critical: If you are involved in a critical incident, go to the hospital and make sure you get the proper medication. After you are out of hospital, start writing things down so you remember them. Mark “notes for my attorney” at the top of the page to maintain attorney-client privilege.

Liar, liar, pants…: You get the idea. Don’t lie in response to an investigation. It’s hard for your attorney to get out of untruthfulness. It’s a recipe for termination.

Appealing: You can always appeal minor discipline. If they tell you that you can’t, they are lying.

Shut up: If you are called into IA, ask if you are the target of an investigation. If they say, “yes,” don’t talk. Call your attorney.

Shut up more: The most likely threat to your career is not a gun or knife. It’s your phone and your big mouth. Don’t hit send, because the First Amendment does not protect dumb posts on social media or officers who post colorful political opinions.

Not exactly freedom of speech: When a citizen enters government service, they inherently accept limitations on their freedom of speech, according to case law. Officers are considered special employment held to a higher standard, which is never defined until you’re getting fired.

Parts of speech: The NJ Employer-Employee Relations Act provides some protection for union-related speech. Things get complicated when union-related speech sounds like insubordination. All rights have limits. Even union leaders must be careful about their speech.

Good healthcare benefits: Plan brokers are coming like flies. Make sure they offer a plan equal to or better than what you have in terms of access to doctors. The scope of the network should be comparable to the State Health Benefits plan with access to doctors.

Comps time: When negotiating a new contract, look for succinct comparisons to other contracts: prosecutor’s office to prosecutor’s office, sheriff to sheriff or similar size communities in your county.

Follow the money: When negotiating for wage increases, remember that you generate revenues for your employer. Get the information on that revenue to see if it went up and they can afford to give you the raise.

Hold the presses: Try not to negotiate your contract in the press unless you reach an impasse.

Package deal: Look at bundling contract proposals and negotiations. For example, if the employer proposes a $5 increase for prescription co-pays, consent only if they give you a reduction in the insurance premium. It’s a matter of, “If you give us this, we’ll give you that.”

Time is on your side: Be aware of “Asymmetrical Time Pressure.” The town manager might receive a bonus for getting contracts done by a deadline date. Use the pressure of losing the bonus to your advantage.

Stay calm: Getting angry at the negotiating table doesn’t serve any purpose. If something happens in negotiations that makes you angry, take a caucus and talk about it outside the room.

Negotiating points: You want the employer to think every proposal is important. And your contract team must have credibility. Don’t include a team member that the employer hates.

Is the force with you: Use of force requires constant training and retraining with regard to how you are operating. Include the requirement for training in your contract.

Don’t force it: Use of force can only be a last resort. Exhaust all other reasonable means to gain control. What is reasonable? Who decides? How is it interpreted by command element or a grand jury? There is no definition of it, but you are expected to engage it.

Education education: Bring studies to the table about the impact of education and the importance of paying for individuals to go to college, with information like how it can reduce the town’s liability.

Arbitration consideration: Arbitration is a hammer. It used to be hammer in your favor. The arbitrator rewrites the contract based on what info is available. Ask, “How much am I going to gain by going to arbitration?” The arbitrator might give you a high raise but take away something else.

Stocking cap: The 2-percent tax levy cap is still in effect. Other increases in revenue or decreased costs can allow them to give you more than a 2-percent increase, but they just can’t raise taxes more than 2 percent.

Grieve it, believe it: If you don’t file a grievance over something you believe to be a violation of the contract, you may be opening the door for the employer to continue violating it.

Worker’s comp: If you develop an illness over the course of your career, this is something you can file a claim for.

Mental health comp: Your mental health is compensable. You can make claims for mental health issues like anxiety and PTSD. Push your members to speak with them after an incident. Stop letting your members avoid mental health claims.

The Takeaways

The best of the best: “I’m learning from the best of the best in the state when it comes to defending us as a union,” Belleville Local 28 State Delegate Robert Hernandez commented. “So learning from the best, it’s worth every penny to be here.”

Increased information: “I really thought that it was interesting that if you go to arbitration right now, it’s only a 2.2 percent to 2.5 percent [increase],” Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office Local 401 Vice President Brooke Camp reported. “And I was really shocked to hear that the cost of living went up 6 percent. That just gave me perspective on what we need to ask for to take care of our members.”

Eye-opening: “[Attorney] Stuart Alterman really gave us insight with the IA process, as well as if you have to go to the Prosecutor’s Office,” Clifton Local 36 President Tom Sucameli reflected. “I think that was eye-opening to be able to hear that firsthand.”

We have rights: “We still have our constitutional rights, and we have to make sure that doesn’t get violated in any way,” Elizabeth Local 4 Recording Secretary Louis DeMondo commented. “Protect your members, make sure they’re doing the right thing and that they’re forthcoming, at the same time.”

Cannabis and critical incident response: “The big topic right now that is going through almost every union is the marijuana legalization. It was really informative to see stances from other unions and what the attorneys from the state PBA [said about it],” Hazlet Township Local 189 President Russell Surdi said. “My other takeaway was the critical incidents on preparing guys if they’re involved in a shooting or anything major like that. It doesn’t happen that often in our Local. But it’s good that we get that knowledge and prepare ourselves to prepare our guys with what to do in that scenario.”

Youth movement: “I appreciate all the professionals that present and offer the members all of the different resources that are out there for us,” Livingston Local 263 member Levecy DeOliveira submitted. “A lot of younger members aren’t aware of all the resources that are available to them.”

Tips and tricks: “The mock IA trial showed how members who maybe have never experienced something like that can get an idea of how things could unravel and what kind of tricks could be used against our members to solicit a response that could be misinterpreted,” Pascack Valley Local 206 State Delegate Anthony Mazzo detailed.

Extra protection: The attorneys were full of knowledge as far as internal investigations,” Long Hill Township Local 322 President Dolores Langenbach said. “That made me feel a little bit better because the way that the world is going right now, we need all the protection we can get.”

Political actions: Lacey Township Local 238 member Andrew Slota shared that he became aware of the need to get involved in local politics. “Because that seemed to help us the most with getting our contracts settled when we were having a little stalemate,” he added. “We joined the local Republican club, which was the majority of our township committee. That seemed to open up conversations between the Local and the township committee.”

To defend our members: “It’s more of the stuff like how to defend your members and the people that are part of your [team] knowing all the laws,” said Belleville Local 28 State Delegate Robert Hernandez about what stood out to him most. “I’m definitely going to have to read more into them, but at least they gave us where to look, and I’ll go from there.”

Knowledgeable: “I have half a notebook full of notes,” Byram Township Local 406 member Scott MacMillan explained. “I’m trying to learn everything I possibly can to bring it back and discuss it. So, when that time does come and we don’t have all those senior guys anymore and we have to do our contract, we’ll have that knowledge.”

Refreshing: “I know a lot of the veteran guys already know some of the rules, and it’s good to have a refresher,” Elizabeth Local 4 Recording Secretary Louis DeMondo affirmed. “Sometimes you forget, you get caught up in things, especially the administrative discipline stuff. So this is a great refresher.”

Stay updated: “Know the law and be updated on what’s going on, because it changes,” Middlesex County Corrections Officers Local 152 Trustee Kino Francis said. “I tell the guys at work all the time not to go off topic because the law is the law, and you’re a law enforcement officer. So make sure you know it and abide by it regardless of what your personal opinions are. It’s the law. Do your job.”

Teaching the young guys: “I’m in the supervisor portion of our union, and we are the older group,” Irvington Local 29 member Charles Capers remarked. “[We have to] make sure that we keep the things that we have, so we go out with them [when we retire] and teach these young guys how important these things are. You have to look at the long term because it may not change for you today or you’re happy with it today, but if you aren’t conscious, tomorrow you lose it.”

Coffee clutch: “One of the things that we like to do in my Local is, over a coffee break, have a roundtable discussion and give the younger guys an idea of what we saw happen,” Pascack Valley Local 206 State Delegate Anthony Mazzo commented. “We throw out scenarios to them with our own mock scenario where they can get in their head and see how responses could be misinterpreted. I thank the state PBA for putting this program together. It gets better every year.”

What not to do: “Basically, we’ll be able to tell a lot of people that have crazy ideas that they might not be on the right page with what they’re thinking or saying or accusing the union of,” Mercer County Correction Officers Local 167 member Michael Mehalik said.

Getting some answers: “I’m writing down notes of what I think is very relevant to my union right now,” Rahway Local 31 SOA President Karissa Hahn noted. “I’m going to type it up and present it at our union meeting so we can get more people involved and get more questions answered. Hopefully this helps them out as much as it’s helping me.”

A power source: “Obviously, knowledge is power,” Metuchen Local 60 Treasurer Casey Klein affirmed. “So, I think it’s a good thing that I could take this information and tell not only our board, but also some of the younger guys that may not realize how it affects them, their career, contract negotiations and their rights as employees.”

In the middle: “There’s a lot to take in with this profession, and there’s a lot on the non-union side to worry about. Once you get into your middle years in the career, you start realizing, ‘Oh, there’s a whole other side of the policing, which is the union side,’” Union Beach Local 291 State Delegate Matthew Deickmann said. “Right now, 60 percent of our department is junior, so we’re trying to educate them early on so then they can step into our roles once we get older.”

The learning experience: “We come to every collective bargaining seminar to learn all the new things going on,” State Corrections Local 105 Alternate State Delegate Charles Snider reported. “Policing changes very much every year, and we want to learn all the updates.”

The PBA advantage: “We switched from the FOP to the PBA, so we’re trying to educate ourselves,” Rahway Local 31 SOA President Karissa Hahn said. “When we joined the PBA, we were like, ‘Alright, we need to get out there.’ And just by doing that, we’re getting all this information from them.”