Members of the West New York Policemen’s Benevolent Association took to the streets July 1 to express their frustrations regarding the way contract negotiations between them and the township are progressing. Mayor Sal Vega has said that in order to prevent a city tax increase next year, 22 police officers and several dozen city workers may be laid off.
Both sides need to reach a contract agreement by July 31 if they want to avoid layoffs.
“They want our insurance, they want to work something out with the raises, but they’re still working on the numbers,” said Tommy Mannion, President of the local PBA. “While the clock started, we don’t have a proposal [from the township], and we can’t keep negotiating in bad faith.”
“We think they are just waiting until the clock has almost run out.” – Tommy Mannion
The July 1 protest started at Bergenline Avenue and 60th Street and continued on Bergenline to 49th street and back.
At the scene, Mannion said the officers feel the town is being unfair by not being specific about what they want.
“We think they are just waiting until the clock has almost run out, [and will] give us a horrible proposal and back us into the wall,” said Mannion. “We have not said ‘no’ to a proposal. We haven’t been given a proposal.”
Police have contract till 2010
Mannion said policemen have been proactive in initiating cost-saving methods since 2006.
According to Mannion, police have been working for half the usual overtime rate during overtime hours while protecting local schools. He also said they have passed on higher salary increases in exchange of a good health insurance plan.
“This is a problem we didn’t create, but we’re trying to help,” said Mannion.
The town maintains that changes are needed to keep the budget ok.
“That was the main thrust of this, to get the tax rate down, so we don’t wind up with foreclosures and things,” said West New York Business Administrator Joseph McConnell.
Swibinski said that currently, taxpayers pay approximately $29,000 per year per police employee just for their healthcare. A more suitable amount would be $16,000, which is the approximate figure that taxpayers pay for the health insurance for state employees, he said.
“We’re hopeful that we will reach a settlement which will save taxpayers a substantial amount of money and also prevent a large number of those layoffs,” said Swibinski.
Cheering with white shirts that said “Support your police local 361,” members of police officers’ families were also present to voice their support.
“They’re out here everyday to keep the community safe, and I think it’s extremely important that the mayor negotiate,” said Kelly Staniewicz, the fiancé of a local police officer who is one of the 22 that can potentially be laid off. The officer is also a member of the SWAT team.
“He was actually born in a police car on Route 3,” she said of her fiancé. “He was destined to be a police officer, and has been working for West New York for four years.”
“To lay off a number of policemen in a town this big, that’s already shorthanded, the safety issue is going to be extreme,” said Lori Indri, wife of an officer who is not facing a possible pink slip.
Manion said another demonstration is slated for July 15. “That’s going to be a big one, well over 1,000 people,” he said.
Civilians caught in police charity fraud
Two civilians believed to not have any connection to West New York police officers were arrested on charges of theft by deception and wrongful impersonating for allegedly asking for donations on behalf of the PBA, according to Police Director Oscar Fernandez.
Michael G. Ponder of Union City and Allen B. Catbagan of Jersey City were arrested at a restaurant after allegedly calling the owner and pretending to be from the PBA. The duo allegedly asked for a $1,000 donation, Fernandez said. In exchange, the men promised to give a sticker and a shield that can placed in a vehicle, Fernandez said.
When the owner of the restaurant agreed, the men made plans to stop by the restaurant to pick up the donation.
However, before the men arrived, the owner called the WNY police to verify the legitimacy of the effort.
Police waited for Ponder and Catbagan at the restaurant.
“It’s a shame that there are people that will take advantage of a situation, that will get to the people, to make their own profit,” said Fernandez. “When in doubt, just give us a call.”
Melissa Rappaport may be reached at email@example.com