Hoboken City Hall workers put the Mayor Ravi Bhalla administration on blast for around 90 minutes at last night’s council meeting after 79 employees received layoff notices last week, prompting the council to approve a resolution that could prompt a switch to a new healthcare plan which boasts over $6.5 million in savings.
“I will share with all of you just a little bit about the people that have been targeted by this administration. You targeted a single mother with a disabled child. You targeted an employee with ailments that still fights to come to work everyday,” said Hoboken Municipal Employees Association President Diane Nieves, who works in the Rent Leveling and Stabilization Office.
“You targeted entire offices … there’s no thought in your mind about the inconveniences this will be to constituents. You targeted employees with a spouse who’s fighting cancer or some other disease. I am that employee,” she said before crying.
She also had no sympathy for the administration’s notions that healthcare and pension costs were forcing their hand here, telling them to reign in the “mismanagement” and “overspending” in the midst of a budget shortfall that is at least $7.4 million and could be as high as $12 million.
Furthermore, Nieves insisted that she believed a “gag order” was in place to prevent employees from speaking out, despite the mayor announcing before the meeting that no such order existed and nothing of the sort would be enforced.
“The goal of this policy is to provide the City of Hoboken personnel with guidelines for dealing with the news media, speeches and public statements, [and] preparing and distributing news releases,” a 2011 administrative directive from former Mayor Dawn Zimmer says.
The order also notes that the business administrator and employee’s immediate supervisor must be notified before addressing the press.
Additionally, Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association Vice President Dawn De Lorenzo, a 26-year employee who does vital statistics and licencing in the registrar’s office, was even more pointed in her remarks: claiming the layoff process was calculated and done with malintent.
“We are being targeted because we are born and raised people and that is a fact! … Look at that list: that list was orchestrated, it was planned, it was devised, and in some cases, it was planned so the person doesn’t even have bumping rights!,” she exclaimed.
” … I implore all of you: I don’t know how people could go to bed at night and put their damn head on a pillow and knowing that you are cutting people out like they are just God damn pieces of paper, or, as I was told, ‘dead wood.'”
Furthermore, Chrys Cooper, an employee of the municipal court, said she is taking care of a disabled child and a mother who is on her third round of radiation treatment and was beside herself over the fact that the entire court staff had been noticed.
“When you issue tickets, who’s gonna handle it? What happens if we all just walk out one day, of the courtroom? What’s gonna happen? You’re gonna have no money coming in from those fines.”
Over a dozen employees expressed similar points of view, asking why employees of the mayor’s office were receiving stipends, why millions of dollars were being invested in parks, and why the administration hadn’t considered switching insurance plans sooner.
While the council was not voting on anything directly related to the budget, there was a resolution urging the administration to consider switching their union employees to NJ Direct 10 – a state plan utilized by 91 percent of the municipalities in New Jersey.
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco pushed for a vote on the matter after blistering the city’s current provider, Fairview Insurance.
“Why is this administration holding onto Fairview so dearly? Because they’re the largest funder for this administration, that’s how this mayor gets elected,” he shouted to applause from the audience after a union rep said switching plans could save up to $10 million.
Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia suggested that the resolution should be amended, since although the change could save about $6.7 million, it could take up to 120 days for the plans to switch if the state becomes the sole insurance provider.
DeFusco said he would only be open to amendments that eliminated Fairview as a broker entirely, as well as new language in the local legislation that would not allow the new plan to get into effect until after May 7th – the scheduled layoff date – and after each union has agreed to the Direct10 plan.
“The Council understands May 8th is the earliest date that positions may be eliminated and the transition to the plan may take longer; however we strongly believe that layoffs should not occur until the City offers employee bargaining units the opportunity to transition to the NJ Direct 10,” the resolution reads.
The measure passed unanimously (9-0) before the municipal workers called it a night after about two hours of discussion.
However, before the meeting was over, another cost saving initiative was introduced by 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen.
His resolution called for all council members that are not self-employed to give up the city health benefits they receive, which he said could save up to $118,000.
“It’s what we’re asking our employees to do: why can’t we as council people take on that instead of having [benefits] paid in full? … If you’re all to get full-time insurance from your employer, why can’t they share in what’s going on here?
In response, Council President Jen Giattino called for a vote to allow for an emergency resolution to be added to the agenda, which failed 6-3: Cohen, along with Council members Jim Doyle and Emily Jabbour, voted yes.
We streamed the entire hearing related to the municipal employees live on our Facebook page and it can be viewed below: