The hard economy, higher cost of living, and result of past concessions are prompting Ocean County employees to ask the Board of Freeholders for a pay raise in their union contract.
Several members of the Communication Workers of America Local 1038, which represent 450 employees in the county's park, security, medical transportation, and roads department, went before the board during a general meeting in October to ask for a "fair raise" in their union contract.

Ocean County Rail Trail (Ocean County Dept. of Parks & Recreation)

Tom Weipz of Bayville spoke to the board, explaining that many of the union's employees are responsible for maintaining the county's much needed services, yet are struggling to make ends meet. With an median income between $30,000 and $35,000 CWA is asking for a two percent increase.

"We all work hard at our job, most departments are understaffed and get good results. I'm proud of my workforce. I know from speaking to many of my union brothers and sisters, that some of them are falling behind on their mortgages and even losing their homes."  Says Weipz, adding he believes as much as 40% of employees have second jobs and some even have three.

Meanwhile, shop steward Bob Baxter spoke to the elected board and said their employees are constantly asked to do more with less.

He noted the 1.5 percent raise the county offered would amount to an increase of 25 cents per hour, which considering many of the concessions members are being asked to take on health insurance and other benefits, would result in some members "going backwards financially."

"We make less now than we did two years ago." Said Baxter.

The Freeholders were quick to praise the work CWA employees are doing within the county, however they were equally fast to point out their limitations within a two percent cap on budget increased (imposed by the state).

John Bartlett (Ocean County Freeholders)

Freeholder Deputy Director John Bartlett, who is a liaison to the parks department as well, noted the 1.5 percent increase is the same agreed by the county's other unions as well as non union workers. Adding that every increase is scrutinized by the taxpayers.
"Yes you haven't been offered a generous contract. We don't have the money to do that. The public is screaming that whatever we do is too much."

Ocean County Administrator Carl Block says the negotiations are at an impasse, and a fact finder has been assigned with a mediation session scheduled for October 31st. Unlike other county unions which have mandated arbitration, however Block notes the fact finder for the process could take a year.

The Administrator notes the issue doesn't like with the monetary amount the two percent union is asking for versus the 1.5 percent increase the county is providing, but rather the precedent set. Block says there is a pattern of settlement that has been established, where other unions have settled at 1.5  percent and other unions are being offered the same thing.

"As soon as you start doing that [increasing the percentage], [other unions would] ask for one and three quarter percent, and the next one will say that I want at least that so I'll start there and go up."

The Freeholders mentioned that costs have been kept low and layoffs avoided by not replacing people in various departments, which made room for other items on the budget. However Block points out at this point they have to replace positions like the corrections department (12 officers  added annually for three years), sheriff's officers, and other state mandated hires for various law enforcement departments.

Block says ultimately it's a "numbers problem that's going to get worse and not better."
There is also a ten billion loss in ratable due to a loss in property value county wide.