Murphy misses firefighters’ confab amid talk of arbitration caps

Members of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey were eager to meet their governor today. The union, which backed Phil Murphy’s gubernatorial bid, wanted to hear what he was prepared to do for them. And on that front, the state arbitration cap and municipal caps were high on the agenda.

“When they put that 2 percent cap on just arbitration, which just affected police and fire, that was a double cap on us, the 2 percent municipal cap and the 2 percent arbitration cap,” said Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey President Dominick Marino. “That was lifted as of Jan. 1, and five months later the world is still standing. The sky didn’t fall.”

Most of Murphy’s union supporters, and there were many, expect that he will allow the state’s arbitration cap to stay dead. He was expected at the event on Wednesday but couldn’t make it to Atlantic City in time from an event in North Jersey because the state chopper wouldn’t fly in the weather. When we asked him about the state cap earlier this month, he said, “I’m still looking for the report, which was due on Dec. 31.”

Ali Cooper is a Camden firefighter. He says, contrary to some of the rhetoric heard, when the salary caps were imposed, most firefighters find it hard to make ends meet.

“You just can’t keep up,” he said. “That’s why you actually see in our line of duty, a lot of people with second jobs, trying to keep up or maintain.”

Several elected officials were here to address members, close to 200, from across the state. They talked about pensions and work rules, and, yes, arbitration caps. While a legislative committee has yet to release a report on the impact of the caps, the Senate President Steve Sweeney said Wednesday that allowing the caps to sunset has yet to upset the state’s financial apple cart.

“So far we haven’t seen a problem, so as we see it, if you start seeing crazy large raises like they did at Jersey City at the school district, well then we’ll have to have a real conversation about the cap,” said Sweeney. “But for now, there’s nothing that has happened up to this point that I know of that has caused us to break the glass in an emergency.”

Republican state Sen. Chris Brown is not so sure that the state caps should be allowed to die.

“One of the realities is that the state simply is broke,” said Brown. “And not only are we broke, but we borrowed so much money that we’re having trouble even bonding to borrow more. So any way that we can find to save money that’s fair for the people who live, breathe, and work here in the state of New Jersey, at the same time being fair to those within the public sector, we have to work towards.”

Several of the members we talked to made it clear that, after endorsing the governor, they are interested to see how he will thank them for the vote of confidence. For some, Murphy’s no-show, unavoidable or not, was not a good start, and some said they expected to skip the governor’s video message, which they were promised was being worked on.