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police & fire

NJ police union says it’s fighting pension cuts, members say not hard enough

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

Ron Dixon gets poker-faced when asked how the state police union plans to keep Gov. Christie from crippling New Jersey’s Police and Firefighters Retirement System. The union doesn’t want to arm “those who seek to damage our pension and benefits” before the next round of proposed cuts, he says. Understandable — yet the tactic has begun to worry the rank-and-file, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has found.

Dixon, the New Jersey State PBA’s director of government affairs, says the union shares the same beliefs as Mt. Olive Sgt. Mike Pocquat, who has become the de facto poster boy for standing up to Christie over pension reform. The NJSPBA, he says, has been making the very same arguments as Pacquat “in newspaper ads and in presentations to our members and the Legislature as recently as this year.”

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Pocquat confirmed this week that he’s spoken with state PBA officials since CLIFFVIEW PILOT published his open letter calling on them and other state unions to band together against any attempts Christie makes to further cut emergency workers’ benefits. ( See : Vet cop who took on Christie challenges state labor unions to take charge )

Neither side will say much about the discussions, but they have confirmed that a serious amount of time has gone into breaking down the facts into a timeline that will show how a once-robust pension plan has nearly gone bust.

Dixon asks only that people be patient.

It “will take a little time to analyze hundreds of pages of our legislative position papers, public comments, advertisements, etc.,” Dixon told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “We expect the review to be an eye opener to even the most casual observer.”

The rank-and-file say they have no time for that.

They already are rallying behind the inspiring Poquat, who last month openly challenged Gov. Christie to “do the right thing” for those who risk their lives for the people of New Jersey every day. ( See : Veteran cop takes on Christie, draws raves )

In fact, several law enforcement officers in New Jersey made no bones about their discontent with leadership, some in emails to CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“My organization has written letters and even spoken to the powers to be in the labor unions for answers,” said Jim Racanelli, founder and president of the Loyal Order Of Police, Inc. (L.O.O.P.).

The PBA, FOP and other state unions “allowed [state government] to do this,” he said. “When the economy was good, they took our money. Now they say the layoffs are necessary because we refuse to make concessions and we are living high on the hog.

“I can show you countless emails I had written, how many times I asked for my labor union to help,” Racanelli added. “Then when I founded my own organization, I even asked if they wanted to do something together and still no answers.

“How is it the PBA brags 33,000 members, which if my calculations are correct, means they get over one million dollars a month and (do) all this lobbying and they can’t (won’t) help us?  I am losing my home, my wife is sick, my kids have suffered through some things, I had to go to the Salvation Army the other day for food and things to put under the Christmas Tree.”

Amid the turmoil, departments have laid off seasoned officers only to turn around a short time later and hire people with little or no experience at much lower salaries, Racanelli said. “How come every time somebody makes us a promise and breaks it.…they shouldn’t be bound by it? But if we have a contract, they expect us to stand by it to the letter of the law.”

Concern is widespread and not limited to merely a discontented few.

“What has been done to the police and fire pension in my opinion is no different than what Bernie Madoff did to all of those who entrusted him with ther reirement/401K plans,”  Monroe Twp. Police Sgt. Lisa Robinson told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“I am concerned that after all of my years of dedication and service, there will be no money available when I retire that was promised to me/”

She then raised an interesting point: “Can we really fight and beat the Government?  Those of us who still have a job are too afraid to rock the boat for fear of being laid off…. Because of the economy, everyone has focused on trying to stay afloat and are not interested in he truth.”

Others insist there is strength in a union — and even more in several.

“The biggest, unanswered question over the past 12 months:  What are we doing about it COLLABORATIVELY?” one officer asked in an email to CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “We’ve taken concessions, denied concessions, fought lay-offs, rolled over, and all by ourselves.”

“We all pay per capita dues for a reason, and I’m disappointed that we aren’t seemingly getting our ‘bang‘ for our buck,” the officer wrote. “As these dues increase, our benefits decrease, and our pension system is frighteningly dangled before our eyes.

“Frankly, a Sgt. from Mount Olive shouldn’t have to ask the hard questions of the Governor, or put out an expose on why the State’s pension fund is in the tubes,” the officer added. “Our leadership should. Yes, they’ve testified before the State Legislature, but is that the only place where Governor Christie held his business? No.

“He held his in the court of public opinion. He held it without ‘the defense‘ (the Unions) screaming ‘objection.’ He was able to state his case, rest his case, and now, has worked with our allies in government to sentence our pension system and financial stability to death.”

Police can’t strike or have a work slow down. On their own, in fact, they have no recourse. For that reason, the officer wrote: “We are fools if we don’t stand in that 2011 convention hall, wherever and however far it may be, and ask ‘What have you done for us?’ to our State leadership.”

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