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Labor Contracts: Overpaying in Teaneck

There was a time when unions were a necessity to improve work conditions, to facilitate higher wages and gain benefits for employees. At its peak in the mid-1950s, union membership reached 36 percent of all workers. According to an article published in January 21, 2011 by the New York Times, the rate was 11.9 percent—6.9 percent of private sector and 36.2 percent of public sector workers.

In this article, I will explain the nuances of public (union) contracts. The Teaneck Teachers Education Association (TTEA) is the most complex, though many of its elements can be found in the police, fire and other union contracts. Teaneck taxpayers have been uninformed for years regarding the true cost of municipal employee contracts. All the information highlighted in this article is available in the public domain, and is being used for illustrative purposes.

I will begin with the TTEA, which is the largest union within Teaneck.

1. Most union contracts, of teachers and otherwise, have a series of salary steps based on years of service. For the TTEA, it’s 13 years until reaching “maximum” salary. This compares with 23–25 steps for teachers within the NYC Board of Education.

2. For the TTEA, annual salary increases of 4.1 percent to 7.0 percent are embedded within the contract and mandated for teachers with 5–13 years of teaching experience within Teaneck. Most of the teachers in Teaneck have a Master’s Degree or MA+32.

3. A teacher with a Master’s Degree at any given step (i.e., years of teaching experience within Teaneck) earns 7.9 to 11.1 percent above a teacher at the same step with only a Bachelor’s degree. Evidence supporting higher student proficiency based on teachers having a Master’s degree is unclear. A Master’s degree teacher with 32 additional credits receives an automatic increase of another 15 percent beyond the level earned with “only” a Master’s degree. It is my opinion that the Masters +32 credit category is “make believe” and was solely created (by the union) to justify an additional salary increase. Based on the TTEA 2008–2011 salary guide, illustrated below: a teacher at Step 6 with a Bachelor’s degree earns $55,560; Master’s degree: $60,860 (+ 9.5% relative to a BA); and a MA+32: $69,989 (+ 26% relative to BA).

4. The reported pay increase calculation is based on the aggregate salaries of ALL teachers and not the income of individual teachers. For example, the aggregate salary expenditure in 2012–13 was $48.3 million. A 2.3 percent increase implies a total spend of $49.4 million. This is a misleading number as it does not include the embedded salary increases for individual teachers as they progress through the steps. For example, at the individual level, a teacher with a Master’s degree going to Step 7 (new contract) from Step 6 (old contract) receives a 7.5 percent salary increase year over year (see table).

The TTEA Salary Structure as of June 30, 2011 was:

If the salaries go up 7.5 percent and the school component of Teaneck real estate taxes can only go up 2 percent, cuts will have to occur elsewhere. As a result the BOE has to make difficult cuts to staff and eliminate programs due to the revenue constraints and limited resources, which is due to the limit on the allowable tax increase.

Teaneck teachers are among the highest paid in New Jersey; the median Teaneck salary for the 2013–2014 school year was $76,404. According to the New Jersey Department of Education, the median full-time certified school employee (teacher) in the state earned $64,210 during the 2013–2014 school year. (Definition of median: The midpoint, meaning 50 percent of people make above the median and 50 percent below.) Between 25–33 percent of Teaneck teachers earn a salary over $100,000. For comparison, according to city-data.com, the 2012 median Teaneck household (often two-earner) income is $94,000. There was a time when teachers earned less in salary than most in exchange for better benefits; today that is no longer true. Teaneck teachers are also better compensated than their NYC counterparts (MA+32), earning $81,000 after 13 years of service.

There are many excellent teachers in Teaneck. There is also a small number of under-performers protected by tenure and grievance procedures. A teacher’s salary is not related to that individual’s performance but is solely related to the length of service. In addition, a teacher’s salary is unrelated to the specialty and the difficulty in finding new employees or replacements: for example, an AP Math teacher is paid the same as a kindergarten teacher or a driver’s education instructor as long as their length of service is the same.

Similarly, I am grateful for all the work the police do in keeping the community and the residents of Teaneck safe. Police, unlike most employees, run towards danger while others run away from danger, and there are job-related risks.

However, the police contract has a very steep step progression, as a newly minted police officer can earn $101,000 after five years.

The Teaneck township manager, and a former Teaneck police officer, William Broughton stated at the May 19 Town Council meeting that there were two retiring officers and we would exchange salaries of $101,081 for salaries of $33,446. This was misleading as it is only a stop gap because within five years the newly minted officers will be paid as if they were on the force for 20 years. Between the date of hire and year six, police officers receive an average annual raise of 24.8 percent.

In 2012 there was a reported 1.95 percent increase to each step (e.g., year two at $50,562 becomes $50,562 + 1.95% = $51,548). Officers who went from year one to year two received an increase in excess of 25.0 percent. All officers get the same raise as there is no pay for performance in union contracts.

I want to reiterate there is nothing wrong with a police officer who has been on the force earning $100,000–$120,000 per year but the slope of the increases is very high and it should be smoothed out over more years. A 15–20 year veteran earning $100,000–$120,000 per year is more reasonable than after just five years.

Contracts are negotiable. Unlike the BOE, Town Council contracts are subject to binding arbitration. The arbitrator must be acceptable to all parties and arbitrates based on the case that is put forward by the town manager and the council. Other alternatives such as two-tier structure for new officers are also possible, as was done in Hackensack. See the table below for the 2015 Hackensack salaries.

Teaneck is at a crossroads. The salaries and benefits represent a significant percentage (60–80%) of total spending. I will say that Teaneck did add Special Law Enforcement Officer (SLEO) in 2014 with more limited duties, that were part-time employment (and as a result no benefits) at a lower salary. Our elected officials, along with the town manager, are currently negotiating a new police contract. So the next time a union official says they received a 2 percent increase you will know that means the whole table moved up 2 percent on top of their step increase. If they claim they received no increase that really means only the maximum salaried employees received no increase. Hopefully, Teaneck will be able to reach an agreement with the unions (1) such that all employees receive a fair wage, (2) that the township can afford and (3) that is consistent with the market value of the position in other local cities and townships.

Stephen Gruber can be reached at [email protected] or http://www.teaneckendthemadness.org/.

By Stephen Gruber

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