Township Sets New Standard for Labor Contracts

Township Sets New Standard for Labor Contracts
Posted on 06/14/2020
Township Sets New Standard for Labor Contracts

Montclair Sets a New Standard for Long-term Labor Contracts

Over the last twelve months, the Township of Montclair accomplished an unparalleled achievement in negotiations with its eight labor unions, by implementing collective negotiations agreements that are not only fair and balanced for employees and taxpayers but also set a new standard for long-term contracts in the Township and the State.

“Labor costs are the single largest expenditure for our municipality – and that is generally the case for most local governments,” said Mayor Robert Jackson. “As such, the Township’s ability to maintain services and take on additional initiatives depends to a large degree on the terms of union contracts. Long-term contracts provide a greater degree of certainty for service levels and afford us much greater confidence in financial projections.”

Whereas past labor contracts did not exceed four years – some were for as few as three years –current collective negotiations agreement terms are set for six, seven or eight years.  In the past, many labor contracts were not settled until one or two years into a contract term which created strained labor relations and unknown salary costs.

“Our contract expired at the end of 2018. The Township was very proactive negotiating with us throughout most of 2019,” said Patrick Ciancitto, OPEIU Local 32 Chief Steward. “In the past, our contracts were usually for four years. This time around the Township wanted a six- or seven-year deal. Once we sat down to discuss the reasons for a longer contract, we felt it was economically fair to our membership and the Township. There were some concessions on both sides. This past November we voted on a 2019-2025 contract and it was ratified. In the end, the membership is satisfied with the agreement.”

“Extended deals like this are not the norm in negotiations,” said Joseph M. Hannon, Esq. of Genova Burns, LLC. “This was achieved through understanding and cooperation with the various negotiations units while accomplishing the Township’s goals, the most important of which is providing financial certainty for the future.” The Township hired Mr. Hannon to assist with the labor negotiations.

Across the board, each agreement includes fair wages and benefits packages while maintaining health insurance premium contributions. In addition, most salary guides were extended, freezing some entry-level and intermediate salary guide steps.

“CWA appreciates the opportunity of a long-term agreement to provide stability to our members, particularly during these uncertain times,” said CWA Non-supervisory Steward Graham Petto. “We respect the concessions made by our membership that made this agreement possible. CWA members look forward to continuing our high level of service to all residents of Montclair.”

Below are the contract terms for all of the municipality’s unions:

PBA Local # 53: January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2024
SOA Local # 53A: January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2027
FMBA Local 20: January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2027
FSOA Local 20A: January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2027
AFSCME Local 2296: January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2026
CWA Local 1040 (Supervisory): January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2026
CWA Local 1040 (Non-Supervisory): January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2026
OPEIU Local 32: January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2025

Acting Township Manager Timothy F. Stafford, Esq., led the Township’s negotiating team with the Township’s Financial Advisor Bob Benecke structuring the agreements’ financial aspects and Labor Counsel Joe Hannon, Esq., handling technical legal aspects. At each critical stage of negotiations, the Township’s Finance Committee, including Mayor Jackson, Councilor William Hurlock, Councilor Rich McMahon and Chief Financial Officer and Registered Municipal Accountant Padmaja Rao, provided guidance and feedback. Mr. Benecke noted that in over 40 years of practice throughout New Jersey, he has “never seen such a comprehensive, uniform labor agreement package, one which respects both management’s desire to control costs and labor’s desire to have a competitive salary and wage package. Further, the respect that was exhibited by all sides and participants was truly unique and a pleasure to be a part of,” he said.

Mr. Benecke also noted that the Township’s current triple-A (AAA) financial rating will be bolstered by these long-term agreements with known personnel costs and clear benefit arrangements. Long-term agreements also avoid renegotiating costs and potential labor instability.

“Our manager, finance team and legal staff are to be commended for such positive negotiations,” said Councilor-at-Large Bob Russo. “These longer, multi-year contracts with CWA and other municipal unions are unique in New Jersey, with Montclair leading the way for continuity, stability and predictability for our town finances. In all my 20 years serving on the Montclair Council, I have never seen such positive labor relations and effective management, he said.”

Councilor Russo is a past member of the CWA and AFTNJ unions and served as a union leader.