Princeton Township Employees Consider Forming Union Before Consolidation to Protect Benefits

Princeton Township employees are considering forming a union before consolidation takes place in order to protect their benefits, Planet Princeton has learned.

Employees not currently represented by a union are upset that the merger of the two Princetons could mean reduced benefits in several areas like health insurance choices, overtime pay for holidays, and sick days.

“It’s difficult as employees to listen to the transition task force discussions,” said a Township employee who asked to remain anonymous. “Morale is the worst I’ve ever seen it. It has been a very rocky road since consolidation passed. We keep coming to work doing our jobs the best we can, but we feel we don’t have a voice and people aren’t listening to us. We need to do something to protect ourselves.”

Township employees currently have a private health benefits plan and receive double time plus holiday pay when they work on holidays. They receive 13 paid holidays, 12 sick days, and three personal days, plus vacation days.

A new employee receives 15 vacation days. An employee with eight years of service or more receives 20 days, an employee with 15 years of service or more receives 25 days, and an employee with 20 or more years of service received 30 days, according to transition task force data. (The employee questioned the data, and said employees with 20 or more years of service only receive 28 days of vacation, not 30).

The transition task force personnel subcommittee has recommended that the consolidated Princeton switch to another system called paid time off, where sick days, personal days, and vacation days would be accrued in one bank, instead of classifying time off into various categories. Short-term disability would go into effect after five days of being sick.

Employees with up to five years of service would receive 19.5 days of paid time off plus holidays, and employees with 21 year of service or more would receive 32.5 days of time off per year, plus holidays.

“We are definitely talking about a reduction in benefits, and it’s a big concern,” the employee said. “That’s what sparked the conversation among non-union employees about starting a union.”

“We do feel in the Township that our elected officials on the governing body are fighting for us,” the employee said. “I don’t know how successful they can be at getting the members of the task force to listen though. Based on what we’ve seen since January on the task force, we don’t feel we have any option except to at least negotiate with the Township Committee what our benefits are so we can lock them in.”

Jim Levine, a member of the transition task force, said at the most recent task force meeting that shifting all the employees to the state health benefits program the Borough uses would save 20 percent on health insurance costs for Township Employees.

“In terms of compensation, municipal employees are now competing with the private sector,” Levine said. “It used to be that municipal salaries were lower, but the benefits were great. Over time salaries have caught up, but the benefits are still extremely generous.”

Township employees disagree and say the task force should not be comparing municipal employees with the private sector, where they say workers get other benefits like bonuses and, at Princeton University for example, tuition reimbursement for children.

“And our employees should be compared with other towns in Mercer County, not towns in other areas of the state,” the employee said. “What the task force is saying is not accurate. We are not that much different than those other towns. In Hamilton they get 15 sick days.”

“Our employees went three years without a raise,” the employee said. “We never pushed for a union before because there was no need to.”

Township Councilman Bernie Miller told the task force he opposes cuts in Township benefits. He questioned why Township employees couldn’t keep their benefits after consolidation, and suggested Borough employees also keep their benefits, with employees hired after January 1 of 2013 receiving a separate benefits package.

“Frankly I do not understand why it is necessary to change,” he said.

“I’d urge you not to demonstrably reduce benefits employees currently enjoy,” Committeewoman Sue Nemeth told the task force. “I would not like to see this turn into a punitive process. It is incredibly demoralizing.  The level of dismissiveness about the employees’ concerns — I find it offensive. These are important issues to our staff.”

One resident in the audience disagreed. “I have not heard anyone on the task force talk negatively about our employees,” he said.

Other officials thought it was unreasonable to have multiple policies for employees depending on which municipality they worked in previously.

The Township employee said he thought a few Borough employees were also talking about starting a union prior to consolidation, but Planet Princeton was unable to confirm such a move in discussions with some Borough employees.