GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — A judge has reversed his ruling from last month ordering the township to continue paying police officers for nonactive military training time and is sending the case to the state Public Employment Relations Commission for a final decision.
Bill Blaney, a labor attorney for Galloway Township, said Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Raymond A. Batten overturned his previous decision in support of Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 77 to pay five of the department’s officers for military drill time.
The decision Friday morning came after the township appealed Batten’s ruling last month, Blaney said.
“He (Batten) has sent the matter to the PERC for them to make a decision with regard to whether we have to bargain with the union on this. The judge basically threw this out on jurisdictional ground,” Blaney said.
What the township and PBA argued before Batten will now be argued again before PERC, Blaney said.
“We believe the statute covers the active-duty pay, not drill-time pay,” Blaney said.
The township is citing a state statute that says public employees who are members of the military are entitled to full pay without loss of time for federal or state active duty for a period of up to 90 days. The township says leaves of absence with pay are not authorized for inactive-duty training.
“We need to determine whether the statute would allow us to pay them. The issue is that they get paid for their time as a police officer while attending drill time. The question is, are we allowed to pay them when they are already being paid (by the military)?” Blaney said.
The township acknowledges paying officers for drill time has been the practice for about 20 years, he said.
In January 2012, the township attempted to end the practice of paying officers for time they spent training in the National Guard. In 2009, township records show about $165,000 was spent between paying officers for military training time and salaries to replace them on duty in the township.
Egg Harbor Township Detective Ray Theriault, who also serves as the PBA Local 77 president, said the union is preparing for a scope hearing in which PERC will examine the issue and see whether it warrants a grievance and is negotiable.
The union and township will be lucky if there is a resolution within the first quarter of 2014, Theriault said.
“I’m a little shocked that a Superior Court judge reversed himself like that, but what can I say, it is what it is,” Theriault said. “Ultimately, we feel like we’re going to prevail. We wouldn’t go through the time and expense if we felt like we were fishing in the dark.”
The PBA feels drill time pay is a benefit that officers have enjoyed for decades, while the township is alleging the statute prohibits the compensation.
“The law doesn’t prohibit them,” Theriault said. “It speaks about what is required of them.”
He added that drill time pay didn’t become an issue until the township started experiencing budget problems.
Last month, township Manager Arch Liston said drill-time pay has cost a large amount of money in a municipality that has been financially vulnerable in recent years. The Police Department experienced layoffs as a result of budgetary constraints, Liston said.
Township police Chief Pat Moran said the township attempted to negotiate shift-scheduling changes, but the PBA has refused to give up the payments to the five officers.
“We will continue to work with the PBA on this issue until it is resolved,” Moran said Friday afternoon.
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