N.J. Unions Give Back to Save Jobs - NBC New York

N.J. Unions Give Back to Save Jobs



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    Across the Tri-State and across the nation, five little words have become an everyday form of greeting -- and an expression of relief: "I still got my job."

    And that's just as true in the city of Garfield in Bergen County, the most populous county in New Jersey.

    "It didn't feel good to know I was gonna be out of a job by July," said Jack Healy, 37, who has worked for Garfield's Department of Public Works for just two and a half years and was one of five on a layoff list.

    But by a 14-10 vote, the union agreed to several givebacks and in turn the layoffs were canceled.

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    Among them, they agreed to a new health plan in which they'll have to make co-pays, a wage freeze for the next calender year, and giving up allowances for new uniforms as well as their cleaning that amounted to $900 a year per employee.

    "It's a small price to pay to save a few good men," said J.R. Sanchez, 46, who has worked for the city for a decade, and would have kept his job even with the layoffs.

    Teamsters Local 469 Steward Jim Brown admitted "It was difficult," while admitting that "some people didn't want to give up nothing."

    But Brown said he's very happy because "everybody kept their jobs."

    Garfield City Manager Tom Duch, a former mayor of the city, said he is still in negotiations with the PBA, which represents the 72-man police department.

    But because they have yet to reach an agreement, Duch said he sent out notice this week that seven officers will be laid off by July 20, and 13 members of the department will face demotions (Captains to Lieutenants, Lieutenants to Sergeants, and Sergeants to Patrolmen) unless the union agrees before the end of June to givebacks that he has asked for.

    "A lot of the young police officers, I went to high school with their parents," said Duch. "This is not something you want to do."

    And even with the givebacks or the layoffs, Duch said property taxes will still have to go up 5.5 percent next year, just for city services.

    It is a scene that has been played over and over again in communities big and small during this recession.

    As for City Manager Duch, he noted that his children used to joke that he would be asleep before his head hit the pillow every night.

    Now, he said, "No more."

    Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY