Morristown police officers, working without a contract for 10 months, vented their frustrations to the town council “as a last resort” this week, contending they are the lowest paid police in Morris County.
“No one comes into this job of police work expecting to become rich. But we do expect to be paid comparable to other agencies surrounding us,” Officer Bryan Holmes of Morristown PBA Local 43 told the council.
Morristown’s rallies and events that draw thousands of people, and traffic from its booming development, have made the police force one of the county’s busiest, with more than 40,000 incident responses annually, Holmes said on Tuesday.
Police are facing these challenges with fewer officers than they had 14 years ago, the union spokesman said.
Yet PBA requests for base salary increases so far have met with “staunch resistance,” Holmes said, warning that one officer already has left for greener pastures and “the best and brightest” are likely to follow.
The town’s move to a self-insured health plan also has caused problems, from slow payment of claims to pediatricians not participating, Holmes said, and the police headquarters are outdated and lack proper security. Officers have been accepting donated furniture or bringing their own, he said.
“The town has invested its time, effort and funding into making this town the vibrant and inviting community that it is in 2018. It is time you take the same approach with the police department,” Holmes said.
“We care about the well being of those who live and work in this community. We respond to your midnight medical emergency, your rush hour traffic crash, or any other call that you feel is important to you. We respond to your child’s school, your place of business, your home, in moments, without fail 24 hours a day, and we are happy to do it. We’re committed partners with this community.
“We simply ask the the town, the council, and the administration to share the same sense of commitment that we have all embraced as members of the PBA Local 43. This community deserves to have a police agency fully staffed, fully equipped, and well resourced, that personifies the professionalism that you expect from the members of this organization. But it’s a team effort. And we cannot do without the support and commitment of those entrusted with making the decisions for the future of this community,” Holmes said.
‘A TWO-WAY STREET’
Town Administrator Jillian Barrick responded that these items belong at the bargaining table.
“I hear the employees. However, they need to address (their issues) with me in the proper venue,” she said.
Morristown’s shift to a self-insured health system in July has resulted in improved benefits and “cost savings for everyone,” Barrick continued, asserting that glitches are fixed promptly–when employees alert her.
“It’s a two-way street. I have to know what the issue is in order to address it,” she said.
Noting he’s seen many negotiations during 33 years as a union member (Local 68 of the International Union of Operating Engineers), Mayor Tim Dougherty stood behind Barrick, who he hired three years ago.
“If for any reason you think a contract is going to be negotiated in the public…I’ll back the business administrator, because she has a job to do, which is contract negotiations,” the Mayor told the police.
Dougherty asked them to forward any specific insurance problems by next week, and urged the union to continue negotiating.
“If you get to an impasse where you can’t figure it out, then we’ll go to arbitration…I think over the years that Jillian has spent here, I think she’s conducted negotiations fairly. And I’ll wait till she’s done, and then when she thinks it’s time for me to come in and have a discussion, that’s when it will be.”
Adding he respects all sides, the Mayor insisted a satisfactory agreement can be reached if “we keep a level head and we keep negotiating.”
He also reminded council members that the business administrator must keep the community’s interests front and center.
“Jillian Barack knows how to negotiate. She’s as tough as they come, and I have full respect and she has the full backing of the mayor’s office, and I hope that the council will also keep behind her and let her do her job.”
Separately, Police Chief Pete Demnitz objected to the council asking Holmes to state his home address, as others who speak before the governing body are required to do for the record.
Meetings are broadcast on cable TV and the internet, and revealing police addresses can endanger officers’ lives, the Chief said.
Council member Hiliari Davis apologized to Holmes, and Council President Toshiba Foster said home addresses would not be required from police at future sessions.