Borough employees turned out Monday night to voice their concerns over the council’s proposal to freeze longevity pay. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Just when it appeared that the Red Bank Council was set to pass an ordinance freezing an incentive program for borough employees, those same employees banded together Monday night to try and get the council to buckle.
Nearly two dozen employees showed up to express disapproval of the council’s move to freeze the longevity pay of all non-union and non-vested employees, under which workers get an annual $500 bonusfor every five years of service.
In an attempt to cut costs, the council wanted to scrub the program for future hires and those who haven’t yet hit the five-year mark. Those with five years or more would have had their bonuses capped at present levels.
The idea didn’t sit well with those who stood to lose. Some argued that they needed that extra money to support their families while many grumbled that union workers are treated better financially.
Human Resources manager Valerie Ferber pointed out that 16 employees would be affected by the move, if passed. She is also eligible for a bonus this year, though she said it didn’t mean much to her compared to the principle.
“To single out the same 16 people over and over, it gets a little demoralizing,” she said.
George Schroeder, who’s worked in public utilities for five years, said the pay is an incentive that, if taken away, would be deflating to him and others who work toward the goal of earning an extra $500 every five years.
“We don’t make no money as it is. It’s a shame,” he said. “I have to go out and get another job just to make it.”
He said his two jobs are barely enabling his family make it, and, “Now you you tell us what we’re working for we can’t get.”
Mayor Pasquale Menna said last week that non-union workers weren’t being singled out, and the council would negotiate with the borough’s two unions to freeze their incentive pay, as well.
Kevin Tauro, who represents the Communications Workers Union, asked that the council “be fair” in its negotiations. He said last year union workers were given a only a half-year raise of 1.5 percent, and had to adjust to a new four-day workweek.
“These people are the most underpaid workers in the area,” he said. “Give us the respect that you give other groups.”
That message seemed to be enough to convince the council to table the ordinance.
“Maybe we did rush into this,” Councilman Michael DuPont said, but warned, “we do need to take some severe steps to close the issue we are having.”
The borough, facing a reduction in state aid, is trying to avoid layoffs and service reductions as it approaches the budget season, said councilwoman Sharon Lee. She said longevity pay will have to be revisited and seriously talked about.
As many in the crowd took the proposal to freeze the pay as a “slap in the face” as public works employee Ray Livingston said, council members made it a point to ingratiate themselves a little bit to mollify those feelings.
“We have an enormous amount of respect for each and every one of you,” Councilman Ed Zipprich said. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t go above and beyond.”
Following a round of applause from the audience when the council decided to table the ordinance, Ferber made a gesture rarely directed at the folks behind the bench.
“Thank you for listening to us,” she said. “We do regret that job you do and the hard decisions you have to make.”