Despite disgruntled union leadership, Bayonne has settled with city employees on a five-and-a-half-year contract, ending a 15-month stalemate, city and union officials announced last week.
The 240 members of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2261 have been working without a contract since July 1 of last year.
The agreement covers the period from July 1, 2014 until Dec. 31, 2019. There is no pay increase for the first year. Following that, there are increases of 2 percent, 1.5 percent, 1.75 percent 1.5 percent, and 2 percent.
Although union members voted 34-18 – a nearly 2-to-1 margin – to approve the contract, Chuck Freyer, AFSCME Local 2261 president, said his membership should have gotten higher increases.
“We should have done much better,” Freyer said. “If the money was better I think mostly everyone would have been happy.”
Business Administrator Joseph DeMarco countered, “I think it took a while for the union to realize that the city made a fair offer to the supervisors and that there was no other money movement from the city’s perspective.”
But Freyer said that the supervisors’ union settling their contract in the spring stymied his efforts in getting the most he could for his members.
“They kind of cut the legs out from underneath us,” he said. “They weren’t going to go any higher at all. They just offered us the same money.”
A sticking point the union agreed to was the change in health benefits for workers. They will now be in a higher deductible plan, in line with what the police, fire, and supervisors’ unions have. Employees’ contributions differ according to where they are in the “step” process, but the cost averages about $1,500 per year per employee.
DeMarco said the city offered basically the same deal to rank-and-file workers that it had made to their supervisors’ union.
“I think the union was gracious and understanding about the city struggles with regard to the change to the health benefits,” DeMarco said. “It’s less cost to the city.”
Another point of contention was the timing of the paying back of furlough-day money. Furlough days are “banked” days written into the contract. In the past, the city reimbursed the money for those days upon retirement or resignation. This time the city agreed to pay at least six days, half the number, during the contract life.
“We should have done much better.”– Chuck Freyer, AFSCME Local 2261 president
The contract covers city hall, public works, recreation, and senior citizen center employees, and police dispatchers. The agreement does not cover police officers, firefighters, and library employees; they have separate contracts.
A mediator from the state Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) entered the discussions in the summer after the two sides had reached an impasse.
Along with the PERC official, DeMarco and labor counsel Alan Roth represented the city in the negotiations. Freyer, AFSCME Local 2261 Vice President Stacie Percella, and attorney Seth Gollin represented the union.
The next step is for the City Council to vote on the contract at its Oct. 21 meeting.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.