Judge hearing arguments on ACPD contract changes

Judge Julio Mendez is once again deciding the fate of a public safety contract in Atlantic City.
The city’s police union was in court Monday to try to keep the state from imposing proposed changes, that include cuts to pay, increased hours and the loss of 19 positions.
Mendez said he was saddened that the union and the state — who at times seemed close to an agreement — had drifted so far apart.
Atlantic City union attorney Mark Belland told Mendez what the union has consistently said: They tried to work with the state’s increasing demands, but the state then cut off talks and sent out an order March 13 saying the changes would take effect in two days. The next day was a state of emergency.
But Ron Israel — of state overseer Jeffrey Chiesa’s law firm — accused the PBA of dragging things out to save jobs. He said the leadership disregarded an offer in January, not even bringing it to a vote.
At that time, buyouts were on the table: Called a “win-win,” Belland said, it was offered to those with 20 years or more on the force, and would have freed up enough money to save jobs.
But the union didn’t take it, and now it’s no longer on the table, Israel said. He said the 10 weeks between that and the March 13 order allowed the state to see deeper issues.
Belland, however, said it was proof that the cuts are punitive, meant to punish the PBA for not agreeing to the first offer without trying to negotiate.
In addition to cutting incentives like longevity, the state also is ending terminal pay and wants to increase the current 10-hour police shifts to 12 hours. The issues of that — including fatigue — were in a study that was done in 2012 and considered when the department changed its eight-hour shifts to 10.
Israel told the judge the personnel cuts — 19 positions that would take the department to 250 — are not anywhere near the ones proposed for the Fire Department, and should not be an issue. But the police union has argued that they already are well below the staffing they need. The cuts would take the department below even pre-casino era numbers, they say.
The firefighters are facing a similar battle with the state. Mendez has put a stay on cuts of 100 firefighers that would have nearly halve the department. He has allowed the contract changes to move forward as the case goes through his court.
An appellate panel recently confirmed that the changes would not cause irreparable damage if the firefighters are successful.
It took nearly three weeks for a decision in the firefighters’ case. That case is currently on hold as the fire union decides whether to take the appellate decision to a higher court.

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