Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Officers Present: Officers Excused:
President – Joseph M. Romeo Steward – J. Castor
Secretary-Treasurer – John Campanella Steward – B. Davis
Vice President – John H. Cooper Jr. Steward – R. Jackson
Delegate – Jami Lyles Steward – S. Rollins
Delegate – Brian Parks Steward – T. Simmons
Delegate – David Nickodemus
Steward – Bruce Chew
Steward – Corey Gallman
Steward – Deonne Moore
Steward – Anthony Morgan
Steward – Jerome Page
Steward – Felix Rogers
Steward – Marvin Taylor
Call to Order: President Romeo opened the meeting at 7:30 p.m. and asked for a moment of silence for the following: Sister Pat Sheppard, whose son passed away; Sister Sharon Sheppard, whose brother passed away; our members who are out sick; our troops.
Minutes: President Romeo said that the minutes were posted in all locations and asked for questions. Brother Jerome Page said something was omitted from the minutes that he would like added. When Brother Campanella spoke to the members about the petition that was signed against him (Brother Page), Brother Campanella reported that 151 members signed the petition. Brother Page said that Brother Campanella also stated that of the 151 petitioners, there were approximately 20 members who were from the mechanical department and who are not represented by me (Brother Page). Brother Page said that he would like that added to the minutes. Brother Campanella said that he did make that statement and has no problem adding it to the minutes. President Romeo asked if there were any other questions regarding the minutes. There were none. A motion to accept the minutes for October was made by Brother Marvin Taylor and seconded by Sister Jami Lyles. Motion passed.
Financial Report: Secretary-Treasurer John Campanella read the financial report, which was also posted on the bulletin board. Brother Campanella told the members that the union’s funds have dropped from approximately $194,000 to $120,000 over the last five years. This is how the long and drawn out battle over this contract has affected our funds. Also, our assessment was paid off in the month of October. We had a balance of $3,755 and collected $4,700 from the assessment. So the assessment for the legal bills from 2014 is paid off. Brother Campanella asked if there were any questions about the financial report. There were none. A motion to accept the financial report for October was made by Sister Jami Lyles and seconded by Brother Robert Jackson. Motion passed.
Brother Campanella told the members that we have had Santa at our union hall for approximately the last eight years. The budget is capped at $1,000. Brother Campanella asked if the members want to have Santa at the union hall this year and if can we get a motion. A motion to have Santa at the union hall this year was made by Brother Bill Spencer and seconded by Brother Bruce Chew. Motion passed. President Romeo said that Santa will be at the union hall on Saturday, December 5th from 11 AM to 2 PM. Union members, their children and grandchildren are all welcome.
Arbitration Case: President Romeo introduced Brother Jamar Martin and explained the circumstances of Brother Martin’s cell phone violation case. President Romeo did explain to the members that another local union has lost an arbitration case for a cell phone violation under the new policy. Brother Jamar Martin explained his case and all questions were answered. This issue was discussed among the members. A motion to vote was made by Sister Jami Lyles and seconded by Brother Robert Jackson. Motion passed. The results of the vote were 14 yes votes and 21 no votes. This case is not approved for arbitration.
President Romeo introduced Brother Edward Evans and explained the circumstances of Brother Evans’ unreported accident case. Brother Evans explained his case and all questions were answered. A motion to vote was made by Brother Bill Spencer and seconded by Brother Bruce Chew. Motion passed. The results of the vote were 36 yes votes, zero no votes and one void. This case is approved for arbitration.
New Business: President Romeo said that he is going to report some issues regarding our contract and asked that all questions be held until the end. President Romeo also said that he is reporting information that he has been told by people of authority but things can change. President Romeo said that we were originally told that the raises would go into effect in two weeks. Now we are being told by NJT management that the raises will go into effect the week of December 11th. The following week is when the retro pay will be paid. President Romeo said that the retro pay will be done in a separate check and the payroll taxes will be done in accordance with IRS guidelines. The company does not dictate what they wish to withhold in taxes. President Romeo said that the retro will be paid before the end of the year, so when you file your taxes next year, you may receive a refund if you overpaid.
President Romeo said that the legal bills for the contract arbitration were very expensive and a lot of good came out of this arbitration, but some things that were not so good. Overall, the union was able to get two 1.5% raises in the first two years when NJT wanted to give us nothing. These raises in the first two years made a substantial difference in the amount of retro pay that everyone will be receiving. Our legal team was able to keep us out of the jurisdiction of PERC. Back in 1988, there was a PERC decision where the arbitrator was legally bound to accept only one side’s position and of course the arbitrator chose NJT’s position. The union did a fantastic job keeping this arbitration out of the jurisdiction of PERC. When the members voted down NJT’s contract offer, we were under the jurisdiction of PERC. That is why the union endorsed the contract offer; we knew that we could do no better under PERC. However, the new legal team was able to negotiate with NJT a submission agreement to proceed to arbitration under the American Arbitration Association. The union and company both presented their sides in arbitration and the arbitrator had the right to pick and choose on each issue. We won some and NJT won some. The company won the right to have full-time provisional bus operators. However, both sides need to work out the details. The company also won a two-year attendance policy. The union argued that these two issues should be negotiated between the parties and should not rise to the level of an arbitrator. The arbitrator ruled in our favor on wages in the first two years and we kept our riding passes. The RX-65 debt was also forgiven so that the members will not have to pay $6.25 per week and the pensioners will not have to pay $25 per month. Also, we did not get two extra paid sick days, however, we kept the perfect attendance program and we kept all current holidays. The union won increases in tool and uniform allowances.
President Romeo said that this was a very expensive process. We just finished an assessment for legal bills acquired in 2014. So now we have our legal bills for 2015 and the total cost of the contract arbitration process. At the State Council level it was agreed that there should be a one-time assessment to cover these costs. The assessment will be prorated based on the number of months a member has been employed. This is something that we think is fair to our members in Local 880. The reason we are getting the raises and the retro pay that we won is because of the hard work of our attorneys and they are not cheap. Local 880 has already spent $55,000 in legal bills so far in 2015. We still need to pay legal bills for the last two months and our part of the contract arbitration legal bills. The company is going to assess every member the same amount. Then Local 880 will prorate the assessment and refund the members based on the number of months they were members. With this assessment, there will be no assessment in 2016 for legal bills since we are recouping the cost in a lump sum. President Romeo asked Brother Campanella to explain the assessment.
Brother Campanella said that he hopes everyone agrees that we need money in order to fight this company. We are trying to keep our funds at an adequate level and our funds have dropped significantly over the last five years. At the State Council level it was discussed and agreed that the local unions should assess out of the retro checks because the checks will be so large it will lessen the financial impact on the members. Local 880’s one-time assessment will be $150, which is $2.50 per month for 60 months. Any member who has not been a member for the full five years will pay $2.50 per month for every month they have been a member. Since we cannot tell NJT to deduct different amounts from each member, NJT will deduct $150 from every member. Once we receive the list of who paid, President Romeo and myself will issue a refund to all members with less than five-years. We will not wait for members to call the union to say that they have not been a member for five years; some members may not call. We will issue everyone a refund if needed. Again, we need to keep our funds at adequate levels. Brother Campanella said that he hopes everyone agrees that we need to keep our funds high. This contract battle proves that we need to have funds in our treasury to put up a strong defense. We have other battles coming down the road. We have organizations across the United States trying to eliminate unions through the courts. We have some big battles coming up and we hope you agree with what we are trying to do. The union was successful in getting those two raises in the first two years of the contract. That made a huge difference in our hourly rates and our retro pay. Our first raise under NJT’s proposal would have been .18 cents in 2012/2013. Brother Campanella said that he hopes that everyone agrees because we are doing what we think is the right thing to do. President Romeo said that we are going to reimburse members on a pro-rated amount of $2.50 per month.
President Romeo said that on Thursday at 5 PM there will be a robo-call from our State Council updating members about the contract. Our local union will also keep members up to date on everything as it occurs. There is a lot of clarity that needs to happen. Please remember that this is an arbitrator’s decision and we have to live with it. Some members have called the union hall asking how can the union let the company get away with this and we remind them that it is a binding decision under the federal process. If we fell under PERC, the company probably would have won everything. This was a very big win for our union.
President Romeo said that anyone who retired will receive retro pay for time worked and their pensions may be recalculated based on the wage increases. The pension increases will not be large amounts but there will be an increase if your pension was calculated on any of the years where you received a raise. Also, the retirees will not pay the $25 per month debt to the RX-65 prescription plan. Any member who retires before January 1, 2016 will not be required to contribute 15% of the prescription premiums for the under-65 prescription plan. Remember we were able to keep our medical plan with no changes. We have to pay 15% of the prescription premiums. President Romeo said that many members have different rates of pay, so they can call the union hall and we will be able to tell them their new pay rates. Also, the pensioners will receive their retro pay in January to avoid any complications with the income restrictions under Social Security. The company could not separate the pensioners by paying some now and others later. President Romeo said to remember that we are passing on the information that we are being told on issues such as raises and retro pay.
President Romeo opened the floor for questions regarding anything discussed. He stated that we are working on some issues regarding part-time and provisional full-time employees. Remember that the arbitrator sided with the company on the attendance policy and we have to live with it. So we are still working on some issues, but please ask your questions about anything to do with the raises or assessment.
Brother William Spencer said that he believes that the assessment is money well spent. Brother Campanella said that he hopes everyone feels the same way because we need money in the bank. Brother Spencer said that the 1.5% raises in the first two years has tripled the retro pay. Brother Campanella said that if anyone remembers the retro pay under NJT’s previous offer was around $3,000 for a top rate bus operator; it is now around $13,000. That is the effect of gaining those raises in the first two years. Keep in mind that these raises were not overly generous when considering inflation.
A member asked that if he retires before the end of the year will he have to pay for the new prescription cost. President Romeo said that if you retire before the end of the year you will not have to pay for the prescription cost.
A member asked if the union will issue a statement on union dues for the year and will it include the assessment. Brother Campanella said yes, he will post a statement in every garage on union dues for the year. This is a confusing year because the dues were $50 in January, $58 from February to October, and $54 for November and December. In addition there will be a $150 assessment. So a notice will be posted in all locations. Also our dues will be raised to $58 in January based to the new raises. President Romeo said that he sees some confusion about the dues amount and asked Brother Campanella to explain. Brother Campanella said that our dues are based on two-times the bus operator’s top rate rounded to the nearest dollar. The bus operator’s current rate is $25.12, which would make our dues $50 per month. However, the International Union raised our per capita tax by three-dollars per member, plus the annual per capita tax increase in July, which we must pass on to the members. That would make our dues $54 which is still below the minimum dues structure declared each year by our International Union. When the new raises take affect the dues will be raised to $58 per month. A member said, why not raise the dues to $60 per month. Brother Campanella said that we are struggling to run this union on $58 and we would like to raise the dues higher but the bylaws do not call for it. Unless the dues structure is addressed in the bylaws we must adhere to the bylaws and constitution. President Romeo said that in January when the raises are in place the bus operator’s top rate will be $27.68 which would make our dues $55 per month and then adding the three-dollar increase from our International Union and our dues will be $58. We are doing what we are supposed to be doing under our bylaws and the international constitution. A member said that in July the dues will go up to $59. Another member said that we should raise them to $60 now. President Romeo said that we cannot because we must follow the bylaws and constitution. Brother Campanella said that we would love to pull a number out of the air, but we simply cannot do it.
A member asked that since members are getting raises over the last five years, can we amend our tax returns for the last five years. Brother Campanella said that is a tax question and she should contact her tax preparer regarding this issue, but NJT is going to pay the retro pay in the current year and it will be on your W-2. NJT is not going to re-issue W-2’s for the last five years based on what you should have earned. Brother Campanella said to the Sister’s point, the retro pay may put members into another tax bracket.
Brother Corey Gallman said that there is a rumor going around that NJT changed the retro date to December 31st because they fear a large number of call-outs after members receive their retro checks. Brother Campanella said that we can only pass on the information that we are being told and like President Romeo reported, the retro checks should be on December 18th.
A member asked if our contract arbitration award will be made public. President Romeo said that it should not be anyone’s business but it will get out to the public. Brother Campanella said that NJT is a public entity and their records are open to the public. NJT is not going to advertise the contract award, but anyone seeking the information will probably receive it under the open public records act (OPRA). President Romeo said that NJT is required to give this information to anyone who requests it.
President Romeo said thank you very much for coming out to the meeting. Sister Anna Prado thanked President Romeo for working hard for us.
Adjourn: A motion to adjourn was made by Sister Jami Lyles and seconded by Brother Robert Jackson. Motion passed. Meeting adjourned at 8:39 p.m.
Note: The next general membership meeting will be held on Tuesday, December 8, 2015. Hope to see you there.