South Orange Fire Unions Agree to Salary Freeze, as Town Agrees to Hire & Promote Firefighters

by Mary Mann
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The South Orange Board of Trustees approved two resolutions tonight sealing the deal on salary freeze agreements with the township’s two firefighter unions.

Resolutions 2020-173 and 2020-174 ratified memoranda of agreement (MOA) with South Orange Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association (FMBA) Locals 40 and 240, adopting salary freezes similar to those adopted with other township unions — with the exception of the South Orange Police Benevolent Association Local 12.

The agreements state that, effective January 1, 2021, salaries will be frozen at their December 31, 2020 rate through 2021. Promotions will still see increased wages but at 2% less than would have been awarded without the freeze. Effective January 1, 2022, base wages will unfreeze and return to what they would have been “but for the freeze.”

In addition, the township has agreed in writing to move forward immediately with the hiring of five firefighters and the promotion of two members to Captain.

South Orange township has previously reached salary freeze agreements with the South Orange Police Superior Officers Association and the Teamsters local representing employees at the Department of Public Works. All non-unionized township workers are also taking a salary freeze through 2021.

Read the full resolutions attached to the meeting agenda below.

Village Green has reached out to South Orange FMBA leaders Firefighter James Jenning and Deputy Fire Chief Michael Commins for comment. Commins spoke out against the salary freeze at the June 8 BOT meeting.

“We don’t see why we should take a preemptive step that lasts that far into the future,” Commins said on June 8 (the freeze extends to 2022), voicing more concerns about short-staffing, delayed hires and firefighter salary increases that he said had not kept up with the cost of living.

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum answered on June 8 that the Board of Trustees had decided on the freeze while assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the local economy through 2021.

“We didn’t want it to retroactively affect any employees,” she told Commins. “We had to either be proactive and address this now, or do emergency transfers that would have to be addressed in 2021.” She defended the Board’s consideration of keeping the tax impact to a minimum (2.72%), noting that more than a million New Jersey residents were currently unemployed, and that federal funding may be hard to come by.

Updated August 4, 2020:

Village President Sheena Collum sent the following in response to a request for comment on the adoption of the MOAs with the FMBAs:

On the fire agreement
I’m very pleased and grateful we were able to reach a deal with our FMBA Local 240 and 40 and I’d like to specifically thank Deputy Chief Commins and Firefighter Jennings for working with me through this process. Additionally, at our next meeting we will be proceeding forward with making necessary promotions and hires in this department to ensure sufficient staffing from vacancies prior to the pandemic and pending retirements this fiscal year. The net outcome is savings realized from both the wage freeze and cost avoidance as it relates to overtime.
On the budget
As of today, all employees and four out of five unions have a temporary wage freeze in place as we navigate the municipal revenue loss due to the pandemic. I called this “shared sacrifice” and maintain that if everyone could do a little bit, together we could produce a reasonable budget in these unprecedented times. This involved putting a pause on and consolidating new initiatives, reducing both operating and capital expenses while also involving our dedicated workforce in asking for givebacks. In the absence of preparation and having these hard discussions now, we’d be faced with potential layoffs or emergency appropriations at the end of FY20 that would need to be levied on taxpayers next year.
Preparation for the 2021 budget has already begun and while there are discussions in the legislature about permitting municipalities to issue “coronavirus relief bonds”, I do not anticipate – due to our actions – that it will be necessary for us to borrow money for operating expenses. 


South Orange, Facing Unprecedented Revenue Losses, Asks Municipal Workers for ‘Shared Sacrifice’, April 29, 2020

South Orange Intro’s Budget With 2.72% Tax Levy Increase, Salary Freeze Negotiations With Unions Continue, May 19, 2020

As State Fire & Police Unions Blast South Orange Pay Freeze Ask, Trustees Back Collum, May 27, 2020

South Orange Fire Unions Oppose Pay Freeze, Accuse Trustees of Understaffing, June 9, 2020


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