Barnegat Police, Committee Remain at a Standstill in Contract Negotiations

May 10, 2017

It's been six months since Barnegat Township police showed up en masse at a township committee meeting to protest lack of progress in talks for a new contract. And little has changed, as the two sides appear headed toward arbitration.

PBA Local #296, which has been working without a new contract for four years, has asked for a pact similar to an eight-year agreement with the Superior Officers Association hammered out nearly three years ago. That bargaining unit, which received yearly pay increases of 1.95 percent and a $10,000 cap on healthcare contributions, consists of sergeants, lieutenants, captains and detectives.

At that December meeting, both parties accused each other of dragging their feet in negotiations. When giving an update on talks at the May 2 meeting, Committeeman Alfonso Cirulli said he saw a glimmer of hope on reaching a settlement last month.

“The first day it looked good, but then the second day we’re back to square one,” he said.

Cirulli said the PBA’s contract demands are not “economically sustainable.”

“Over the years, our financial situation has changed,” he said. “We’d like to give them what they want, but these salaries can’t keep going up and up. We have to draw the line somewhere.”

Deputy Mayor Frank Caputo, who had participated in negotiations, said the officers “are doing an excellent job.”

“We are not disrespecting them,” he said. “But unfortunately, we are at a stalemate.”

In arbitration, the two sides hand over their power to a third party that will decide the dispute. The process serves as an alternative to litigation.

“I think we are going to do well in arbitration,” said Patrolman Chris Ebert, a delegate to the State PBA and a member of the negotiating team. “We have a strong case.”

Ebert said the unit is bringing along Raphael Caprio, a Rutgers University professor who carries out research and teaching in the area of local and state budgeting and finance, financial management and public sector management.

“We’re not asking for anything extraordinary,” Ebert said. “We’re asking the committee to be fair and provide us with a fair contract.”

Ebert said that prior to talks last April, the group did not have a bargaining session since August.

“PERC (Public Employee Relations Council) forced them (the township) back to the bargaining table,” he said.

Ebert disputes the committee’s negotiating team that the money isn’t there.

“Three officers left and the chief (Arthur Drexler) retired,” he said. “That’s saving about $700,000 this year and there will be more savings as more officers leave. We’re going to be losing officers because of this situation. I can’t blame them for not wanting to work in this type of atmosphere. It’s a shame because we’re probably going to lose a lot of good people.”

— Eric Englund




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