The PERCs of being a PBA member

Middlesex County Sheriff’s members confirm that changing representation is out of order

An attempted coup in Middlesex County Sheriff’s Local 165 PERColated again in December. A new collective bargaining agreement had been in negotiations for nearly a year, and the Local anticipated signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the county to secure up to a 12-percent increase for members at the top step and a minimum of 8 percent for everybody.

The first year of the four-year agreement, however, had a zero increase. The year working without an agreement would yield no retro.

Middlesex County sheriffs from the Order – yes, that Order – saw that zero as a way to lure members to the dark side. Even though there was zero truth to what the order was pitching, some younger members were seduced into signing cards and call for a PERC election to challenge the PBA as the Middlesex County Sheriffs’ collective bargaining agent.

“The rumor mill moves a lot faster in our place than the truth does sometimes,” Local 165 President Kevin Mastroserio explained.

Added State Delegate Jeff Bell: “It’s very easy to say, ‘If we were in power, then we would’ve done this. If we were the bargaining agent, we could have got that.’ There’s no way of proving it could ever be true.”

This had happened in 2016. Lots of talk from the order about being something better than PBA representation circulated. But not nearly enough votes to change colors could be mustered.

Bell and Mastroserio had heard rumors that the order was shopping signatures around the Middlesex County courthouse. That was in the fall and the talk quieted down a bit.

In the meantime, Local 165 created a bit of a coalition with Middlesex County Corrections Officers Local 152 and Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office Local 214 to pursue new contracts for all agencies. Presenting a united front presumably would help move the county toward agreements that were comparable and beneficial to all.

“We had a pretty firm handshake agreements with the county,” Bell reported. “Then, two days later…”

Two days later, attorney Jim Mets of Mets, Schiro & McGovern, LLC, who represents Local 165, received a letter from PERC that an election to determine the collective bargaining agent for Middlesex County Sheriffs had been set for Jan. 10. Mastroserio reached out to the sheriff’s officer who is the president of the order’s Middlesex County Sheriff’s lodge questioning whether challenging for representation when an agreement with a very formidable raise was in place would be in the best interest of the members.

“As I explained to him, now’s not the time. Don’t do this. We’re close to getting something,’” Mastroserio related. “And it would have benefitted him.”

And even though the new deal was making up for the zero in 2021 with percentages in years two, three and four of the contract, Mastroserio said that the order, “basically told everybody, ‘That’s BS. We can do better.’”

The grapes certainly had not soured enough to put the new deal in jeopardy, but Bell recognized that some members are never satisfied. Even though Local 165 gets nearly 100 percent of new officers coming out of the academy to join the PBA, there’s always some in a unit of 130, including the SOA, who become disgruntled.

“Some have an issue with our representation or an attorney’s representation and decide to go over to the other side thinking it’s greener pastures,” Bell added. “They’ve always been the minority and every so often they get the courage to attempt to take over as the bargaining agent. They tried with the SOA as well, but that did not happen.”

As the order perpetuated it’s BS and the county started to look at the PERC election as a chance to massage the deal, Local 165 decided to awaken the force. Members would need to see the rise of the PBA as the only union that provides exclusive, premium and optimum representation and benefits.

And so they did.

Local 165 set up an info session for members to get the whole truth from the PBA. Yes, there were some from the order who can’t handle the truth, but it was an opportunity for President Pat Colligan, Executive Vice President Marc Kovar, Pension Benefits Coordinator Pete Andreyev, Health Benefits Coordinator Kevin Lyons and Labor Relations Coordinator Mike Freeman to offer details about the PBA’s extensive services and benefits.

Additionally, Bell asked Mercer County Sheriff’s Officers Local 187 State Delegate Pat Papero, Union County Sheriffs Officer Local 108 State Delegate Mike Heller and Bergen County Sheriffs Department Local 134 State Delegate Frank Warther to attend the session. Presidents and board members from other county Locals and other sheriff’s department Locals also attended.

“We called in the heavy-hitters because we thought to a large extent, it was a matter of education,” Mastroserio clarified. “We thought it was important that if you’re dissatisfied with us, ask those questions to the people who are here and see if their answers are any different.”

The members asked. They were duly impressed with the PowerPoint PBA Special Projects Coordinator John Hulse presented showcasing such differentiators as the Legal Protection Plan and clinical services. Freeman’s detailing of all the successful contracts negotiated and interest arbitration awards procured across the state further elevated the PBA’s force.

“The information they provided that members didn’t have in that format went a long way in convincing them,” Mastroserio continued.

And Bell observed: “That kind of proved to the members that what the other union was trying to sell them wasn’t the truth.”

On Jan. 10, Mastroserio went to the PERC office in Trenton to witness the counting of the votes. As they counted each one, it was quickly adding up in Local 165’s favor and eventually turned out with a decisive 63-44 margin in favor of staying with PBA representation.

While Bell and Mastroserio let out a collective sigh of relief, they anticipated the vote would turn out this way. And by the end of the day, Bell was receiving texts and emails from members applauding the outcome.

“I did get overwhelming correspondence from members of ‘way to go’ and this and that,” Bell said. “I think they obviously believe that being a PBA member best suits our interest and is clearly the better union to be with.”