HAWORTH — The union representing the borough’s police officers sent postcards to every residential address in Haworth last week complaining about what its members perceive as a lack of progress in negotiations for a new, four-year contract.
The officers’ last contract expired at the end of 2014.
“The borough has proven through their offers and rhetoric that retaining seasoned and highly trained officers is not a priority,” reads the postcard, which also claims that Haworth police make about $12,000 less than their peers in other Northern Valley and Pascack Valley municipalities.
Sgt. Michael Saudino Jr., who sits on the union’s negotiating committee, said the pay disparity threatens to lead to higher turnover in the 11-member department — a scenario that he said hurts morale and can prove costly as officers work overtime to fill vacancies as they occur.
Saudino said the union is arguing for adequate compensation a ta time when police officers are being asked to cover a larger percentage of their health insurance premiums than ever before.
“I understand the economic climate,” he said. “We want to be part of the solution. But please don’t create a larger problem for us.”
Mayor John Smart disputed the union’s account of how negotiations were faring. Both sides already had made major concessions, he said, and an agreement was “pretty close.”
Police pay is typically determined by a salary grid in which an officer’s pay increases both as a new calendar year arrives and as the officer gains experience.
The union, Smart said, had agreed to stop time-dependent pay increases for all but the highest-ranking patrolmen, while the borough had agreed to maintain a third type of salary increase, known as “longevity pay,” for existing officers at a rate of 1 percent of base salary for every three years on the job, with a maximum increase of 8 percent annually.
What is left to negotiate, Smart said, was whether new hires would receive longevity pay and how their experience-dependent salary increases would be structured.
As for the union’s concern about the discrepancy in pay between Haworth and surrounding towns, Smart said: “If somebody wants to be a police officer for the money, there are other towns to go to. We think Haworth offers a much better package experience for a career police officer” due to the exposure to a variety of cases that a small department affords.
The borough and the police union have held seven rounds of negotiations since September. If they are unable to reach an amicable agreement, they can recruit a state arbiter to provide a binding decision.
Arbitration decisions, according to a 2010 law, cannot award police unions more than a 2 percent annual increase in total compensation.
Neither side wants to see the dispute go to arbitration. The police officers stand to receive a larger increase in total compensation than arbitration allows, while members of the Borough Council worry that arbitration could harm morale in the Police Department, which officers say is already at an all-time low.
Police salaries and wages accounted for $1,452,508 — or roughly 20 percent — of Haworth’s 2014 budget.
In its postcard, the union encouraged residents to attend the Borough Council meeting at 8 p.m. Tuesday.