Says Reasonable Negotiations Can Help Prevent Layoffs and Tax Increases
Senator Joe Kyrillos (R-13) urged unions representing public employees, including teachers, firefighters and police, to help support local efforts in the communities they serve to address budget deficits. Kyrillos noted that efforts in several communities have proven that doomsday predictions of massive layoffs and tax increases can be averted through a civil process of financial analysis and negotiation.
“We have already seen several instances of public employees unions working closely with the communities they serve to enact reasonable contractual changes that reflect the dire budgetary realities of today,” said Kyrillos. “We have seen several encouraging instances of teachers and policemen working with their communities to prevent layoffs that would hurt their colleagues and tax increases that would hurt homeowners.”
By agreeing to a wage freeze in the upcoming school year, employees in the West Essex Regional School District were able to cut the district’s expenses by $700,000, an amount equal to nearly half of the state aid that was lost. As a result of the efforts by the employees’ unions to help cut costs, the district was able to avert job losses and program cuts that otherwise would have been enacted. A similar freeze was agreed to by the Montclair Education Association in an 80%-20% vote, producing $900,000 of savings for the Montclair School District.
Similarly, police officers in Point Pleasant worked closely with the Borough Council to find ways to close a $2 million deficit in the municipality’s budget. After reviewing municipal financial statements, PBA Local 158 agreed that the borough’s poor fiscal outlook was not being overstated. To help close the budget gap, the union agreed to concessions on benefits and salary that would help prevent tax bills from rising and municipal employees from losing their jobs.
Kyrillos noted that it is not uncommon for unionized employees in the private sector to forgo pay increases if their employer is in dire fiscal straits. He cited reports that five of six unions representing workers at PSEG voted heavily in favor of forgoing salary increases this year to avert potential layoffs. Many had contracts promising raises of up to 3.25% this year.
“We have positive examples of both private and public sector unions recognizing that it’s in the mutual interest of their members and their employers to work together to get through tough times,” added Kyrillos. “No employer wants to have layoffs as the only option to close budget gaps, but that’s an unfortunate reality that many are driven to when employee unions refuse to renegotiate contracts that were signed in a different fiscal climate. Fortunately, we have seen that employees and employers can prevent inevitable cuts if they choose to work together.”