Detectives and investigators in the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office have won a new contract that calls for a 7 percent pay raise spread over a four-year period.
A state appeals court on Monday affirmed a decision by the Public Employment Relations Commission to adopt an arbitrator’s award, dispensing with objections that it was arbitrary and capricious and did not take fully into account the fiscal impact on taxpayers.
“PERC reviewed each of Mercer County’s objections to the award, and determined that they were without merit because the arbitrator had considered and discussed each of the statutory factors and rendered a reasonable decision on the issues in dispute,” Appellate Division Judges Alexander Waugh Jr. and Jerome St. John said.
The last contract between the prosecutor’s office and the unions expired on Dec. 31, 2009. Negotiations to reach an agreement on a new contract were unsuccessful and PERC assigned the matter to an arbitrator, Joel Weisblatt.
In September 2011, Weisblatt awarded the unions a four-year contract retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010. The contract provided for no salary increases the first year, but a 2 percent increase for 2011 and 2.5 percent increases for the final two years.
The contract also required, among other things, for union members to pay more for their health and pension benefits, as required by the 2011 Pension and Health Care Benefit Reform Act, allowed them to link personal days to vacation days and allowed them to use bereavement leave for the deaths of stepmothers and stepfathers.
PERC reviewed the award and upheld it in October 2011.
The county and Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr. appealed. They had wanted a three-year contract rather than a four-year one, and they said that while Weisblatt’s mandated salary increases would have little impact on the prosecutor’s budget itself, it could have negative ramifications countywide when it came to negotiating contracts with other unions.
Waugh and St. John said PERC, when reviewing contracts with law enforcement unions, has to balance the “unique and essential duties” the members perform and the “life-threatening dangers” they face on a daily basis against “all due consideration of the interests and welfare of the taxpaying public.”
The judges cited nine factors that must be considered in making a decision: the interests and welfare of the public, a comparison with contracts given to similarly situated unions, the current benefits situation, stipulations from all parties, the limitations imposed by the Local Budget Law, the financial impact on the governing unit, the cost of living, the need to maintain continuity and stability with senior employees, and statutory restrictions on the employer.
The county argued that Weisblatt’s award was “arbitrary and capricious” because it did not take into proper account the impact on local taxpayers and the county’s precarious fiscal situation. In order to void a contract, there must be a finding that it is arbitrary and capricious under the Appellate Division’s ruling in Teaneck v. Teaneck Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association, 353 N.J. Super. 289 (App. Div. 2002).
PERC concluded that Weisblatt considered all the applicable factors and reached a reasonable conclusion in determine the length and terms of the contract.
“[W]e conclude that PERC’s affirmance of the award was not ‘clearly arbitrary and capricious,’” the judges said. “Having so determined, our standard of review requires us to affirm the decision on appeal.”
Neither the county’s attorney, Brian Kronick, of Newark’s Genova Burns Giantomasi & Webster, nor the unions’ attorney, Leon Savetsky, of Hackensack’s Loccke Correia Limsky & Bukosky, returned telephone calls seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Bocchini, Casey DeBlasio, declined to comment.
PERC Deputy General Counsel Mary Hennessy-Shotter declined to comment.
The case is In the Matter of the County of Mercer and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office v. Prosecutor’s Detectives and Investigators Local 339 and Prosecutor’s Superior Officers Association, A-1449-11.