ICYMI: state commission finds NJ taxpayers paid $2.3 million over five years to pay for Camden union presidents

In case you missed it, my colleague Matt Katz and I wrote a story yesterday on a State Commission of Investigation report that claimed New Jersey taxpayers pick up the tab for millions of dollars a year in salaries and benefits for government employees on leave to do union business.

The commission found that in Camden, $2.3 million had been spent over five years to pay the salaries and benefits for three police officers and three firefighters engaged in union business full-time. Union representatives from the departments complained the report was misleading because there were only two officers working for each union at any given time. (The state counted three, officials said, because there was a change in union leadership for both departments between 2008 and 2009.)

Camden firefighters union president Kenneth Chambers also said that, given the personnel issues the department currently faces, there needs to be a full-time union president.

I clarified that the report does not dispute the need for full-time union representation but, instead, that member dues should fund his salary and benefits, not taxpayers.

“If I wasn’t union president, taxpayers would still be paying for me,” Chambers said about being on the department's payroll.

Just recently, he said, several firefighters received notices from the city that stated that holiday and vacation time was being calculated in a new way that they would have to compensate the city thousands of dollars for time they took off.

“Dockings will begin on the Pay of May 11, 2012 and continue until the balance is paid in full,” the letter stated.

Chambers argues he did not receive any other notice or information about the change.

That’s the kind of issue the department faces constantly and it requires union members to have representation, he said Wednesday, adding that the report minimized the importance of the union work being conducted by employees on leave.

"This is union busting," Chambers said.

The report recommended that the Legislature ban or significantly curtail public subsidies for union officials. Some state and county officials said union fees, not tax dollars, should pay for the union representation.

A spokesman for Camden County, which is working to create a county police force that it hopes to replace the city force, said that under a county arrangement, paid leave for union leaders would not be funded by taxes.

Read full story here.

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