Dems preempt Guv, announce compromise on arbitration

TRENTON – Democratic leaders announced they have reached a compromise on a key component of Gov. Chris Christie’s municipal toolkit, and hour before Christie was reportedly prepped to lambaste the Dems on their toolkit inactivity.

State Sen. Pres. Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) said they will pass an arbitration bill with a 2 percent cap, but it will allow for raises above the cap as long as the average yearly raise does not exceed 2 percent. After three years, the cap would be lifted and the arbitration process would be evaluated.

The new bill is an upgrade to Assemblyman Lou Greenwald’s (D-Voorhees) bill that lacked the 2 percent cap and died with Christie’s help.

An opposing bill put for by state Sen. Mike Doherty (R-Washington Twp.), that did include the cap, was “not crafted right,” Sweeney said. “You wouldn’t have any flexibility.”

Now the arbitration for police and fire unions will allow raises above the cap, if the total raise is under 2 percent.

The bill does not pertain to collective bargaining between the unions and the municipalities, only interest arbitration.

Longevity and length of service increases are included in the cap, while health care and pensions are outside the cap.

Municipalities have the right to force arbitration if it believes a union is not negotiating in good faith. In that regard, unions can force the municipalities back to fact-finding and mediation, if the same occurs.

Arbitrators will now be selected at random and judgment process will be changed as well

“Everyone was saying, we need more,” Sweeney said. “We heard that from the mayors.”

Sweeney said this bill is three-fourths of the toolkit, in his opinion.

“This is revolutionary,” he said. “This is a real cap.”

But Republican lawmakers remained unconvinced that the bill represents true reform.  In a scathing release, Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-12) called the proposal politics as usual and said allowing the bill to sunset meant it could easily be circumvented.

“This is not real reform; these guys just don’t seem to get it,” O’Scanlon said. ” It’s astonishing, frightening actually, that our legislative leaders don’t seem to understand the most import policy reform we’re likely to discuss this session.” Said O’Scanlon. “Any legislation allowing for a sunset does not help our towns. This is merely a temporary salary freeze that the unions can contract around a few years down the road.”

Oliver said the Democratic leadership tried to meet with Christie yesterday to discuss the bill, but Christie was busy.

Oliver expects the bill to be up for a vote in the Dec. 13 session, and Sweeney said the Senate will also deal with the bill in that time.

“We do not need someone cracking a whip for us to get our work done,” she said.

Dems preempt Guv, announce compromise on arbitration