Hoboken employees put Bhalla admin on blast before council pushes for new insurance plan

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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:

18 COMMENTS

  1. The switch to the State plan would have been made years ago had the unions been willing to consent to the switch. Unless the unions have now agreed this resolution is just grandstanding though if it puts pressure on the unions to finally be reasonable on this issue then the grandstanding could actually serve a positive purpose.

      • The Administration needs to make that clear and the res ought to have been amended to call on the City AND the unions to make the change. The folks being laid off are probably being misled by their union leaders to get them to blame the city when it’s largely their own leadership that is at fault. That message needs to be heard over the noise of DeFusco’s BS.

        • The people making the noise last night were the workers. They trust the union. They don’t trust the administration and, I’d feel the same way if I was one of them.

    • Blaming the unions for the $13 million in budget malfeasance by Ravi Bhalla is stupid. Deflecting to the unions on a possible insurance move is equally foolhardy. Ravi Bhalla and his special interest insurance underwriter wallow in bed together and targeted Mike DeFusco in the last election. DeFusco is furious about it and isn’t going to overlook it, unlike the Ravi Terror Flier.

    • The state health plan was never offered to municipal workers at ANY time in the past bec the city never had a broker and never needed to research the state plan.
      There was an agreement with the unions years ago to go self pay to save the hospital.
      Get your facts straight

      • The unions saved the hospital? Seriously? OK – you gave me my chuckle for the day so thank you for that. But if you genuinely don’t know that direct 10 was nixed by the unions long ago and almost certainly will continue to be them you are misinformed. Joining the State plan would cost the unions the power to veto changes to the plan – a power they have jealously guarded with a big NFW costing the taxpayers many $millions over the years. Now it may cost 79 union jobs. Hopefully they will now reconsider their long held position – it certainly would be the right thing to do for those union members facing layoffs.

  2. Dealing with the City’s budget problems requires an honest assessment of the problem so the Mayor and Council can work together to craft the best possible solution. It isn’t a time for DeFusco demagoguery or the rantings of Hoboken’s dumbest doofus.

  3. Can’t save jobs and lowe taxes and increase services.
    Hoboken needs to stop ticketing as it’s only revenue
    Develop sensibly or Die….Maybe Mason was half right?
    Can’t keep suing to stop progress or protect a select fews personal views and cycling hobbies
    Not everyone has Jabbour’s Cohens or Doyle/Healy’s wealth.

    • Quite the insightful analysis you certainly can’t spend money you don’t have. However, a walk around Hoboken reveals a pretty substantial amount of new development though – between the Bijoux project at 7th and Jackson and the numerous new high-rises in Northeast Hoboken and various other projects around town at various stages of completion, there will probably be close to 5,000 residents added in the next few years, not even counting the many redevelopment zones.

      Being a developer shill is probably profitable work, but it does make one seem like a doofus. I guess not everyone chooses self respect over money.

      • No some choose back room deals that cost the HHA residents costly lawsuits
        Funny how you tout Zimmers massive highrise at 700 Jackson. The Only mayor to ever support breaking the Palisades….

      • Idiot Lou… the properties you reference ARE redevelopment zones. Like the one across from the Mayor’s house where she supported a huge high-rise hotel helped by her zoning couple and ex Masonistas…The Sham of it all.

        • I seem to have hit a nerve. Take a deep breath and repeat three times – I am a doofus but I’m OK, I am a doofus but I’m OK, I am a doofus but I’m OK. You’ll still be a doofus, and still be a developer shill who sold his self respect for a few dollars, but it’ll make you feel much better about it – I promise.

      • Oh ShaowStan you never fail…. too bad your wife’s delaying of paying (hiding?) Water bills have come to light. Might bring to light ( not light bulbs ) why she quit reelection weeks after raising money at a high priced patronage filled fundraiser

  4. There are many parties that share responsibility for getting the city into this mess. The mayor, his administration, the old mayor, the city council, the city unions…we could probably go on. What’s even worse is that the people who got us into it have to get us out, and they already proved their incompetence on this issue (and many others).

    Given that we don’t even know how much it is at this point, we have to wonder how this is going impact the Dry Dock deal, infrastructure repairs, and now basic day to day operations. When this goes down, what will the city look like?

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