Police, fire unions have yet to meet with Choi

Layoffs slated to start July 16

BY DAN NEWMAN Staff Writer

Two of Edison’s best-paid unions are refusing to meet with Mayor Jun Choi even though the threat of furloughs and layoffs linger.

Fire union President Bob Yackel stated that even though layoffs, which Choi said would be a last resort, will go into effect July 16, his union will not meet with the mayor.

“Until an audit is done, we will not be meeting with the township,” Yackel said. “We sent out a letter on Friday [July 10] stating that we want to see the books.”

About a month ago, Choi announced that as many as 75 municipal employees would face layoffs by the middle of next month if their unions do not agree to 12-day furloughs and wage freezes. At the time, Choi said the township was facing an $8.4 million shortfall in fiscal year 2010, which started July 1. He said revenue is down nearly $2.6 million and that costs are up about $5.8 million. At its most recent meeting, the Township Council voted to introduce a resolution to switch Edison’s budget from a fiscal year to a calendar year. A public hearing on the matter has not yet been scheduled.

At the present time, the township is working with a three-month budget. TownshipAdministratorAnthony Cancro recently said that a full 12-month budget may be completed around late August.

PBA President Michael Schwarz said that the only way his union would meet with Choi is if the mayor wants to negotiate a new contract that will help the township save money.

“Otherwise, there is nothing to be said,” Schwarz stated. “There is no possible way for our department to do furlough days, and especially not layoffs. We’re already understaffed as it is.”

Schwarz said the daily average of officers who put in overtime ranges from five to nine officers.

He also said that the number of officers in the department has decreased each year that Choi has been in office.

“I’ve been telling him for three and a half years already that he needs to hire more people, and things wouldn’t be so bad, but he didn’t want to listen,” Schwarz said.

When asked what he thought would happen on July 16 if the stalemate still exists, Schwarz answered with a question of his own.

“I don’t know what would happen, but what do you think would have happened if Choi had won the primary? Would we even be going through any of this?”

Yackel stated that more than $1 million is missing from the fire department’s budget, and he wants to know where it is.

“We’re not playing games here,” Yackel said. “We want to know where that missing money is. Before Choi lost the primary, nobody heard anything about having a budgetary problem in town. But now, right after the primary, there’s a chance that people may be laid off. It just doesn’t make sense.

“This isn’t about global economics, this is about Jun Choi mismanaging the township and its money,” Yackel said.

Township spokesman Jerry Barca confirmed that the police and fire unions have not met with the township’s administration.