The ins and outs of serving as State Delegate

Labor Relations Report 

Being elected the State Delegate of your PBA Local is an honor and a privilege that should be cherished by those fortunate enough to be selected to protect and serve the women and men in your department. That is just one of the messages that each State Delegate receives when attending the New Delegates Training Course. The committee that hosts the class is chaired by Montclair Local 53 State Delegate Joe Savittieri.

After 12 years as State Delegate, which followed 14 years as his Local’s president, “Joe Sav” is retiring. I’ve been on this committee for 16 years, and that message has not changed. What has changed is the frequency that we hold the classes.

Many of us believe the position of State Delegate is one that you try to hold for the remainder of your career. Years ago, we would have had to wait several months until there were five newly elected Delegates to hold a class. Retirement of a longtime Delegate was most often the only way to get elected.

Occasionally, a Delegate would serve several terms before accepting a promotion to sergeant two or three years before retirement. Even then, they express regret that they had to leave the “best job” in the department.

That is no longer the situation. The turnover for State Delegates has now increased to the point where we have monthly classes where upwards of 15 Delegates are expected each time. Our most recent New Delegates Class was attended by 17 of the 26 who were invited to be a part of the mandatory training that must take place before the Delegate can assume the responsibilities of his or her position.

I look at this as a catch-22 situation. The undeniable fact is that we have done a remarkable job of training our union leaders. The police departments have been reaping the benefits of this by allowing the Delegates to learn all the administrative portions of police work, including the rules and regulations of the department; local ordinances and their application to policing; internal affairs procedures; managerial prerogatives; and all aspects of the terms and conditions of police employment. After a State Delegate shows their strengths as a leader and gains the respect of those they represent, the police department knows that it is promoting someone who will be successful guiding them in the future.

The downside is that the association loses a talented and capable person to handle the labor issues that are inherent in all employment, but especially important in law enforcement. The nature of our jobs, coupled with the scrutiny of how we go about our day-to-day operations under sometimes extraordinary circumstances, requires a different level of labor relations than other public sector unions. The knowledge gained by a State Delegate who expands his or her network through the county conferences and the state association is built slowly at first, then expands exponentially as they start to understand how the issues that arise in another agency are similar to many.

The experience of addressing the issues that affect their Local members allows them to gain the trust, and sometimes admiration, of the membership, as well as of the police administration and governing bodies. A State Delegate who can speak intelligently on behalf of police officers is an asset to the members and the public.

To say that we must have an adversarial relationship with anyone simply because we are a union is nonsense. The union should be on the same side as the administration and the governing body. We all want to ensure public safety, and one of the State Delegate’s responsibilities is to make sure that we all do that within the guidelines of the contract and applicable laws that regulate the conduct of all involved.

In the Employer-Employee Relations Act, it is declared as the public policy of this state that the best interests of the people of the state are served by the prevention or prompt settlement of labor disputes. The best way to protect those interests is with information that is gathered and shared at PBA meetings.

Unfortunately, in recent years there has been reluctance on the part of police administrators to allow time off for Delegates to attend meetings if it will cause overtime. Since this is a negotiable issue, it should be in the contract, but sometimes that practice that had always been in place was never reduced to writing.

After the change of State Delegate, chief, lieutenant, etc., the binding past practice was lost and meeting attendance suffered. The Local association suffers, too, because that is not in the best interests of the membership — or the employer, for that matter. More than anything, a union leader must know what is negotiable and how to go about it.

The Act requires negotiations over the terms and conditions of employment. N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.3 provides: “Proposed new rules or modifications of existing rules governing working conditions shall be negotiated with the majority representative before they are established. In addition, the majority representative (PBA) and designated representatives of the public employer shall meet at reasonable times and negotiate in good faith with respect to grievances, disciplinary disputes, and other terms and conditions of employment.”

In a case involving police and firefighters, if an item is not mandatorily negotiable, one last determination must be made. If it places substantial limitations on government’s policymaking powers, the item must always remain within managerial prerogatives and cannot be bargained away. However, if these governmental powers remain essentially unfettered by agreement on that item, then it is permissively negotiable.

This is your midyear reminder to save the date for the 2024 NJSPBA Law Enforcement Collective Negotiations Seminar. We have changed the name to reflect that New Jersey does not use the term “collective bargaining” anymore, and we will continue to update the topics to reflect what our members need to know. This is not just for Delegates. We encourage all members to attend Feb. 6-8, 2024, in Atlantic City.