Split decision for town on officers’ allegations

BY JOYCE BLAY Staff Writer

Staff Writer

JACKSON — Arnold H. Zudick, a hearing examiner for the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), stipulated in a June 8 decision that municipal officials must post a notice agreeing to refrain from sanctioning employees who engage in protected speech.

The notice specifically refers to Jackson police officer Joseph Oleksy, who was the president of PBA Local No. 168 at the time he filed a complaint with PERC charging that he was sanctioned for publicly discussing the union’s grievances at an Aug. 12, 2002, Township Committee meeting.

In legal papers provided by attorney David DeFillippo, Oleksy alleged that shortly after that meeting his responsibilities as range master and as extra duty coordinator designee had been removed, as well as his take-home patrol car.

Frank Cipully, who was the PBA vice president at the time, charged in the complaint that after being transferred to the service division in November 2002, he was not given a take-home vehicle at all, as had been past practice.

Zudick did not find Cipully’s complaint meritorious based on the length of time between the meeting in August and the action taken in November, but did recommend that Oleksy’s responsibilities be given back to him with one hour per month of compensatory time as compensation.

DeFillippo said that despite a three-year battle, Oleksy’s victory had been worth the wait.

“The PBA continued to fight this case because it set a bad precedent and the town would have continued to bully or intimidate union leaders,” he said. “There’s got to be a free flow of ideas. The action they took in slamming Mr. Oleksy was illegal.”

When asked where he would display the required notice, Mayor Michael Broderick said the township would take exception to the recommendation issued by Zudick. On June 21, an exception to Zudik’s recommendations was made by labor attorney Jamie Plosia.

Plosia expressed surprise that Cipully’s complaint was made at all. He maintained there was no precedent for the officer to receive a take-home car as alleged. Plosia asserted that Oleksy’s complaint hinged on whether or not his public comments before the committee constituted protected speech.

“Capt. [Christopher] Dunton and [Public Safety Director] Sam DePasquale testified that his statements were false and misleading and just not true,” Plosia said. “We felt that it was not protected speech.”

Despite his loss in alleging unfair labor practice, Cipully said the decision might not be the last time he would attempt to press the issue.

“I’ve put this behind me, but anything that’s negotiable” can be addressed in the future, Cipully said. “The decision was still a benefit for the union as whole.”

Oleksy declined comment, but current PBA President Christopher Parise said he thought Zudik’s recommendations would be adopted by the Public Employment Relations Commission.

“We’re obviously happy with the PERC decision,” Parise said. “They can appeal it, but it’s not something that is normally overturned.”