PARAMUS, N.J. – Representatives of more than three dozen former Bergen County Police Department officers who received notices of layoffs or demotions from the county sheriff last week said they’re being discriminated against.
The officers “are being targeted as victims of political retribution” by Sheriff Michael Saudino, who’s “engaging in union busting,” said leadership of Bergen County Police Officers PBA Local 49, which scheduled a news conference Monday afternoon in Paramus.
Saudino last week said he was making the moves, beginning in mid-June, “for reasons of efficiency and economy."
"Confronted with changes in the law and other requirements -- including a mandate that requires an expansion of the scope of security in state courthouses -- my office is in the process of restructuring law enforcement staffing levels," Saudino said.
The state mandates require him to hire 35 additional officers for courthouse security without exceeding a 2% budget cap, the sheriff said.Otherwise, he said, attrition would continue to be the only means of reducing staff.
The sheriff said the moves were “consistent with the public policy” in a Memorandum of Agreement made official in 2015 and “may be affected by the exercise of the seniority, lateral, demotional, and/or special reemployment rights of other employees," to be determined by the Civil Service Commission.
Employees may appeal under Civil Service guidelines, Saudino said.
Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Saudino and then-county Prosecutor John L. Molinelli folding the county police department into the sheriff’s office in his first official act as the county’s chief elected official after being sworn in on Jan. 1, 2015.
County police were rechristened the Bureau of Police Services and the total number of officers the sheriff could hire without freeholder approval was capped.
County freeholders approved the move the following month.
No one would lose his or her job, Tedesco, Saudino and Molinelli said at the time.
Over the long term, however, the sheriff was charged with reducing what became a combined total of 255 officers to 201 through attrition.
The MOA, as its commonly known, pledged to “retain existing staff” employed by the Bergen County Police Department and "expressed "the intent of all parties herein that, through attrition, this number be reduced," Local 49 representatives noted.
“Furthermore, both the county executive and Sheriff Såudino conducted media interviews, during which they both stated in effect that there would be no layoffs, no loss of pay and no officer from the former Bergen County Police department would be harmed,” they said.
“[A]n equally significant factor is the need to replace redundancies, to become more efficient in the manner in which police services are provided by county government and to actually seize upon opportunities to expand such services offered to the residents of Bergen County through this realignment,” the MOA said.
The sheriff will “devise a plan whereby County police patrol services will be deployed on a sector basis throughout all of Bergen County, thus improving response times at area colleges and other County owned or operated buildings,” it said.
Saudino will also “make these officers more accessible to the municipal police departments for purposes of backup, force multiplier services, faster specialized services and prisoner transportation.”
“Having been assured of our security by the political leaders and the wording in the Memorandum of Agreement,” Local 49 leaders said, “the members of PBA 49 decided to continue our commitment to the residents of Bergen County.
“Many of us made significant life decisions based on the promises made by these politicians, including extending our families, buying a home or not taking another position at a different agency,” they emphasized.
The union said 37 former BCPD officers received notices of layoff or demotion, while another 19 department members “received notices that these changes could negatively impact them, as well.
“The officers who are targeted for layoffs and demotions are alt sworn officers of the former Bergen County Police Department, while at the same time the Sheriff is hiring new officers to replace the officers he is laying off.
“The members of PBA Local 49 believe that we are being discriminated against for our previous positions with the Bergen County Police Department,” union leaders said.
“The sheriff's attorney, who also spoke on behalf of the County of Bergen, stated that hiring people at a lower contract level is a more efficient way of delivering the same services to the county.
"The only alternative presented to us by the county was an informal offer in January of this year by the sheriff’s attorney to transfer us to the title of Sheriff Officer at a significantly reduced salary, although that offer has never been formally presented.”
Five newly-hired sheriff’s officers were training at the police academy, with promotions to higher ranks scheduled this Thursday, the union noted.
“Since the date that we were informed by the sheriff’s attorney that there were going to be layoffs and demotions…if we did not agree to take a pay cut, the sheriff has hired 15 new officers and promoted 5, as well as 9 promotions three weeks prior to receiving this ultimatum from the attorney.”
“The members of PBA Local 49 have a history of working with county government on any issue that would benefit the citizens of the County of Bergen as long as the issues at hand are presented in good faith and transparent,” union leaders said. “We feel that this is not the case here.
“The members of this union have been called greedy and difficult to work with, and we have been referred to as ‘terrorists’ in a public forum,” they added. “These statements by leadership do not show an act of good faith.
“The men and women of the Bergen County Sheriff, Bureau of Police Services are hardworking, law enforcement professionals and want nothing more than a fair and reasonable solution to this issue. The members of PBA 49 are not just employees of the County of Bergen but many are also lifelong residents.”