Under political pressure on Wednesday, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla rescinded an executive order from 2011 that barred municipal employees from speaking publicly on matters of policy.
Apparently everyone got the memo, because the Hoboken City Council meeting on Wednesday night was packed with passionate personnel and longtime residents protesting the 79 potential layoffs that were officially announced earlier this week.
“I am here to tell the administration to STOP,” said Diane Nieves-Carreras, President of the Hoboken Municipal Employee Association. “Stop blaming the employees of this City, stop blaming the health insurance, stop blaming pensions—you act as if we don’t pay our share. We do.”
In a December 17, 2019 memo obtained by hMAG to Mayor Ravi Bhalla from the City’s now-former Business Administrator Stephen Marks, the outlook for Hoboken’s financial position is outlined—highlighting a combination of healthcare costs ($1,513,450), elevated pension costs ($578,345), and anticipated annual salary increases in the face of collective bargaining negotiations with the City’s six municipal labor unions ($3,200,000).
Those increases are being met by anticipated revenue shortfalls on court fines, investments, debt service increase (bond repayments), departmental budget increases, higher waste disposal fees, and an increase in New Jersey’s Joint Insurance Fund premiums.
According to Marks, “The grand total for anticipated increases for personnel costs and other expenses is $7,420,795,” adding “which does not include the impact of the projected decrease in the municipal surplus regeneration.”
The decrease in surplus regeneration is said to be in the rage of $6.5 million. The impending layoffs are a result of those projected budgetary shortfalls. Meanwhile, City Employees feel the Administration’s response hasn’t been comprehensive.
“If you were to begin to stop your mismanagement and your misspending and your overspending, maybe we would not be here in this situation,” said Nieves-Carreras. “As the President, it’s hard to talk to the employees and console them and tell them to have some hope, because I am also a target.”
By target, she means she is listed among the 79 employees facing possible layoffs—effective May 7.
“You targeted a single mother with a disabled child. You targeted and employees with ailments who still fights to come to work everyday. You targeted entire offices with no thought in your mind of the inconvenience that [this] will be to the constituents of this city. You targeted several people who were ready to retire this year. 60% of the targeted employees are women,” said Nieves-Carreras, tearfully adding, “You targeted an employee whose spouse is fighting cancer. I am that employee.”
After taking a moment to fight back further tears, Nieves-Carreras continued—as co-workers rushed to her side in support.
“In a meeting with [now former Business Administrator] Stephen Marks and [Director of Operations] Jason Freeman, we mentioned that we wanted to into the state plan. In this meeting Stephen mentioned that if we got all six unions to agree to go in on the state plan, there would be a possibility of no layoffs. But unfortunately that is not true. When [Hoboken Operations Manager] Anthony Ricciardi went back and told the administration that all six unions were in agreement, we’ve just found out that still layoffs will happen.”
FULL MEETING — Hoboken City Council; March 4, 2020:
Since 1982, Hoboken has maintained its own benefit system outside the State of New Jersey’s plan.
“I can’t understand why the City will continue to want to pay a third party when we can eliminate that with a state plan,” said Nieves-Carreras.
By third party, Nieves-Carreras was referencing Fairview Insurance, which serves as a broker on behalf of the City.
A resolution introduced last night by First Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco will reportedly help save more than $6.5 million in health insurance costs by enrolling employees in the NJ Direct 10 program. The measure, which passed unanimously, urges the administration to bargain in good faith with all six labor unions and identify the best way to transition from using the City’s current vendors.
Meanwhile, the clarion call for better fiscal management reverberated throughout the Council Chambers all night long.
“I think you should cut down on the cost of your overtime,” suggested resident Elaine DiPinto, a former municipal employee who remains politically active. “And another thing—you councilpeople, do I pay for your health benefits? Shame on all of you. You all work in private industry. Why are you dipping into my money to pay for your health. And you want to lay us off?”
Provided they contribute, Hoboken City Council Members are currently able to participate in the City’s health plan. Fifth Ward Councilman Phil Cohen moved to introduce legislation that called on “City Council members, with the exception of those without access to health benefits offered by his or her full-time employer or who are self-employed, shall voluntarily forgo their health insurance coverage provided by the municipality for the CY 2020 year.”
Cohen’s resolution was tabled, and he will reintroduce the measure at the next Council meeting.
Regardless, the City’s workers and longtime residents took full advantage of their opportunity to address elected officials. Their message was passionate, unified, and crystal clear.
“You might be sitting there now, but someday you’re going to come to us for a vote,” said DiPinto and “we’re all going to remember that we were humiliated by getting layoff notices.”