Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Election Chief Sued on Labor Deal

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Election Chief Sued on Labor Deal

Article excerpt

Passaic County Superintendent of Elections Sherine El-Abd is caught once again in the political crossfire, after Passaic County filed a lawsuit on Friday aiming to block a labor contract she negotiated with her union staff that grants large increases in pay and benefits.

The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court on behalf of County Administrator Anthony J. De Nova and the Freeholder Board, argues that the three-year contract agreement with elections workers represented by Local 1032 of the Communication Workers of America is far too generous and will send labor costs soaring. The contract increases wages by nearly 9 percent in 2015, and by more than 11 percent in 2016 and 13 percent in 2017, the lawsuit says.

In addition, the new contract freezes employee contributions to health insurance at their current level, and offers, for the first time, a chance for workers to earn a 5 percent "merit pay" bonus at El-Abd's discretion.

The suit was filed before Judge Margaret Mary McVeigh and asks the judge to set aside the contract, arguing that the value of the wage and benefit increases is far beyond the 2 percent budget cap. The suit also asserts that if the contract is allowed to stand, other unions representing county workers will demand sky-high pay hikes.

The suit says the contract is the election superintendent's "unbridled attempt to encumber the public purse without regard to the budget process."

McVeigh scheduled a show-cause hearing for March 6, when El-Abd will have a chance to defend the contract.

El-Abd, who was appointed by Governor Christie, has crossed political swords with Passaic County officials several times in her rocky tenure as elections chief but said she was surprised by the lawsuit. She wouldn't comment on specific claims contained in the suit because she hadn't seen it, but she said the county never opposed the contract.

"If they were unhappy about the contract, they never said anything to me about it," she said. As for merit pay, El-Abd supports the concept as an incentive. …

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