The union representing the Delaware River Port Authority’s 131 police officers has filed a lawsuit against the DRPA in federal court seeking to force the bi-state agency to submit to binding arbitration over the terms and conditions of the officers’ employment contract.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys for the Fraternal Order of Police Penn-Jersey Lodge 30, claims that the 94 patrol officers, 25 sergeants and 12 corporals have been working under an employment contract that expired at the end of 2009.
The police officers are tasked with patrolling the four bridges the DRPA owns and operates that traverse Pennsylvania and New Jersey – the Ben Franklin, the Walt Whitman, the Betsy Ross and the Commodore Barry – as well as the PATCO commuter rail line.
According to the lawsuit, the police union requested in September 2009 that the DRPA agree to engage in collective bargaining over a successor to the 2005-2009 joint contract.
The request went unanswered, the suit states.
Two months later, the FOP again issued the same request, which once again went unanswered.
The parties eventually met on seven occasions between March and April 2010, but no progress on a new contract was made, the suit claims.
The lawsuit states that during these various sessions, the DRPA refused to make any economic proposals of any nature, and during many of those meetings the agency’s negotiators advised the FOP that it would not agree to any wage increases for the officers, noting that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who holds veto power over DRPA Board of Commissioners’ actions, would not approve any wage increases to a DRPA employee.
In May 2010, the police union sent a request to the DRPA’s CEO asserting that the parties were at an impasse and requesting that the agency agree to invoke the contractual impasse resolution procedure.
Later that month, the two sides met, and the DRPA made offers of a 0 percent wage increase for 2010, a 0 percent wage increase with a $500 bonus for 2011, and a 2 percent wage increase for 2012, according to the complaint.
The proposal was rejected by the police union.
From 2010 through the present, the lawsuit alleges, the DRPA has refused to engage in interest arbitration with the police union.
In early February of this year, the DRPA met with representatives of Lodge 30, formally withdrawing its May 2010 offer, and additionally demanding a number of concessionary givebacks, including the elimination of longevity and injured-on-duty pay, the elimination of officers’ clothing and shoe/uniform maintenance pay, and the elimination of certain holidays.
The agency also refused to offer any wage increases at this time.
“The DRPA representatives also advised Lodge 30 that they had ‘no authority’ to offer any further compensation of any kind, explaining that New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie, would veto any such action by the DRPA Commissioners,” the lawsuit states. “The DRPA representatives further advised the FOP that the Authority would not consent to advancing the dispute to interest arbitration.”
The complaint states that the police union continues to operate under a 2004-2009 collective bargaining agreement.
In 2006, the New Jersey Superior Court ordered that the DRPA proceed to interest arbitration after the agency and police union reached an impasse over the terms of the 2000-2004 collective bargaining agreement.
The DRPA never appealed that decision.
“Lodge 30 and the DRPA are, if anything, going backward in their negotiations, and have been at an impasse in collective negotiations since at least February 6, 2012,” the lawsuit states. “The DRPA refuses to engage in interest arbitration to end the impasse in negotiations.”
The lawsuit further states that it would be futile for the two sides to engage in an impasse resolution procedures, which would have the parties submit their respective positions to the DRPA’s chief executive officer and a panel of DRPA commissioners and union representatives, since New Jersey’s governor has flatly stated he would veto any offer of wage increases.
The lawsuit contains counts of breach of compact and breach of contract.
The complaint seeks a mandatory injunction ordering the DRPA to engage in interest arbitration with the police union.
The suit was filed April 11 at the U.S. District Court in Camden, N.J. by Philadelphia attorney Charles T. Joyce.
According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, an entry-level DRPA officer earns just over $49,000 a year. Rank-and-file officers make close to $65,000 while a sergeant can make more than $80,000 a year.
The federal case number is 1:12-cv-02170-JBS-KMW.