Hoboken City Hall Employees Respond to Layoffs of 26 City Workers

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On Friday, February 28th, 79 notices of potential layoffs were given to employees of City Hall in Hoboken. They appeared to be in direct correlation with fiscal woes that Hoboken was facing at the time, with a budget deficit estimated to be between $7-14 million {more on that below}. Fast-forward just six weeks later — to a nationwide pandemic no less — and sadly, some of the layoffs have come to fruition. On Friday, April 17, City Hall officially announced it will be laying off 26 of its workers out of the 79 given notices in February. And now, workers who are affected have sent a letter to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, denoting that they were targeted by City Hall and that the handling of the situation was negligent on the City’s behalf.

city hall hoboken layoffs

Disclaimer: We are primarily focused on lifestyle and local business-supportive content as a platform, but given the breadth of the situation, we are covering this in more detail. You can see all of our latest news stories and lifestyle coverage here.

Update as of April 28th:

On Tuesday, April 28th, the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association forwarded a 59-page letter to the press sent the week prior from Attorney C. Elston & Associates of Wall to Deidre Webster Cobb, the Commissioner of the State Civil Service Commission.

The letter alleges that the city didn’t adhere to mandatory pre-layoff statutes, has a lack of proof that layoffs are necessary, and that during the layoff discussions, there were actually two positions filled under the Department of Constituent Services.

Dawn De Lorenzo, President of the Municipal Supervisors Association, said in the statement, “It is our firm belief that the layoff list presented by Mayor Bhalla was contrived, orchestrated and planned to target individual employees. The Hoboken City Council recently passed a measure asking the administration to suspend all layoffs until a budget was submitted for review, but instead the mayor has ignored this directive to protect the jobs of his current political appointments.”

Director of Communications for the City, Vijay Chaudhuri, said in a statement on Tuesday in direct response, “The city will vigorously defend its position and is confident it will prevail in the court of law.”

The Backstory from April 17th

On April 17th, Mayor Bhalla announced the layoffs that had come to fruition via a press release.

“We had to make the unavoidable decision to submit a plan to lay off 26 positions, which makes up approximately 4% of the total workforce. I hold a responsibility to the taxpayers of Hoboken to do everything possible to mitigate a large tax increase due to these factors and must act on that obligation,” Mayor Ravi Bhalla said in a press release this afternoon.

“Like many other municipalities, states, and organizations across the United States, COVID-19 has had a major impact on the City of Hoboken and its finances. The City has taken on additional new costs to protect the health and safety of residents, while also realizing substantial losses in revenue due to the crisis,” said Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla.

“The negative budgetary issues from COVID-19 and an additional anticipated loss of revenue in the weeks and months to come, compounds an already difficult budget for this year that I’ve communicated about previously.”

Read More: Hoboken City Hall’s Heated City Council Meeting from March: What We Know

2020 Budget Issues Surface

Before COVID-19 was affecting our area and its emergency resources, in early 2020, it came to light at a City Council meeting that there were some serious deficits in Hoboken’s budget. At this time, the council voted on a series of proposed parking hikes in fees and fines, which were passed 5-4.

The 2020 budget deficit was brought to light by Tiffanie Fisher, 2nd Ward Councilwoman and Parking and Transportation Chair that there was a deficit that was not $7 million, it was almost double that. “It’s potentially closer to $14 million. It’s a giant number,” she said at the meeting at the time.

The budget that’s discussed is the one found here — which has a deficit between $7-14 million {the numbers are based upon a $7 million deficit and a projected $6.5 million decrease in municipal surplus generation}.

Other pieces of the situation had also come to the surface back in February, including the fact that City Hall is being sued by its former healthcare provider, UnitedHealthcare, for $60K, according to Hudson County View

The reasons for this budget deficit, however, according to City Hall’s spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri at the time, were due to health care costs rising.

Mayor Bhalla shared in a press release last month, “This year, we are projecting major increases in healthcare costs for City employees. The premium healthcare plan the majority of City employees utilize faces an increase of approximately $1.5 million from last year. In addition, State pension costs have also increased by approximately $600,000, and previously negotiated union contracts have added another $3.5 million to the projected budget. Combined with a loss of revenue from municipal court, parking, and more, the City is facing a substantial shortfall in 2020.”

Now with the emergency resources being used in combination with other budget issues, these City Hall workers are being laid off.  City Hall has told Patch that the Office of Civil Service will determine the positions that will be a part of the layoffs.

Responses to the Layoffs

Update as of 4/19:

The head of the Hoboken municipal union, Diane Nieves, shared comments with Hudson County View about the layoffs, saying, “We are disappointed that the city, instead of requesting an extension of the layoff plan, chose to issue layoff notices to city employees during this uncertain time. The City listed employees because they were deemed non-essential, yet during this crisis these employees are still working so that the city could function.”

“This layoff list also clearly targets me, the union representative, in retaliation for opposing the layoffs and for not blindly accepting the awful medical plan that the City was demanding. Many of the employees targeted for layoffs are senior employees and they are clearly being targeted because of their age and time on the job. The city is harming loyal employees because of its mismanagement.”

Several council members have also shared thoughts about layoffs and the City’s response, both now and previously.

PLEASE NOTE:

We are including press releases and comments sent to us by politicians and reported by outlets regarding this issue. Other City Council members are welcome to submit to hello@hobokengirl.com.  We are reporting what has been shared publicly via these channels, and while some may appear petty, we are trying to share the full story of what has been shared with the media and our site. They do not reflect endorsements.

Councilmember Tiffanie Fisher shared in her email to her consituents last week, “Hoboken’s budget was a mess before this crisis with a shortfall estimated at about $14 million driven by increased spending and labor costs and would have potentially required layoffs of up to 79 municipal employees, double digit tax increases and further depletion of our surplus account.  To say that the COVID crisis exacerbates this issue is a significant understatement.  I actually do not know how we are going to navigate through this but the administration and our council subcommittee have been working to do so.”

She continued, “This is a macro issue and one that the federal government will have to solve.  At all levels of government, revenues have reduced significantly.  All use revenues are and will be down – whether sales tax, gas tax, parking revenues, construction permits, court fees, hotel taxes or income taxes.  All down.  We need the state to provide relief aid to fill what is probably an additional $5-8 million shortfall in Hoboken.  But we are just one municipality and the state can’t currently afford to give us more because of their own $5 billion revenue shortfall.”

 

Hoboken First Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco shared with hMag regarding the layoffs, “Over the past three months, members of the City Council have repeatedly asked the administration to share with us a comprehensive outline of Hoboken’s finances, a request that has still gone unanswered. Having still not seen as much as a budget proposal, even as neighboring cities have introduced their budgets, it would be irresponsible for the city to lay off any employees until we have time to properly review the numbers, line by line. The additional COVID-19 related expenses will undoubtedly put an additional strain on City resources and we will continue to dedicate all of our resources to stopping the spread of this virus. However, it’s critical for us to ensure the city’s necessary response to this emergency is not used to cover up the preexisting deficit. We must begin having open and honest conversations about our budget to protect the long term financial integrity of our city and municipal employees.”

In what appeared to be a direct response, Councilmember Emily Jabbour’s press release stated, “The current COVID crisis is an unprecedented event in our history where we are facing critical health and economic challenges. Given this reality, the Administration and City Council are doing everything we can to prepare a responsible budget while managing a crisis with conditions that change daily. Initially we thought 79 jobs would be lost and the Administration has worked tirelessly to limit that reduction to 26. Councilman DeFusco is playing politics, again, for the sake of his planned mayoral campaign. This latest attack, with respect to the budget, is more of the same – and it’s not productive to play politics when this Administration is on the front lines, making critical decisions for the city. I know that the Administration is doing the best it can to navigate this crisis and does not take these decisions lightly.”

Councilman Phil Cohen also sent out a short press release this afternoon. “It’s unfortunate that during the COVID-19 national pandemic, Councilman DeFusco continues to play politics. Councilman DeFusco has had the chance to provide input and gather budget information during the daily COVID-19 calls the Mayor’s staff has held with the City Council, but the Councilman has failed to do so, or even attend the vast majority our virtual meetings. It’s sad that Councilman DeFusco, again, is pushing his political ambitions to the fore, while the City addresses an existential public health crisis.”

Other councilmembers have weighed in previously regarding the layoffs.

In February, Councilman Michael Russo also said City Hall would be “absolutely decimated” if there were to be mass layoffs, according to NJ.com. “Morale is horrible,” he said to the news site. “Everyone is scared about what the outcomes may be here. It’s a scary thing to know you have a job and then all of a sudden you’re potentially not going to have that job. How do you feed your family? How do you pay your rent? How do you pay your mortgage?”

Freeholder Anthony Romano shared his thoughts directly at the Council meeting back in February as well. “Every one of these workers is important to the City of Hoboken. We have to compromise and save these jobs.”

The City of Hoboken employs about 560 people in total.

On the COVID-19 Pandemic Affect Felt Throughout Hudson County

This type of economic situation appears to not be isolated to Hoboken during these tumultuous times, though Hoboken was having budget issues prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just two weeks ago, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced the buyout of 400 city employees due to the city’s projected loss of $70 million — $50 million in revenue and $20 million in emergency expenses relating to the Coronavirus.

Fulop said previously during the announcement of the buyout, “The more proactive and aggressive we can be now, the better off we will be in the long term.”

The buyout in Jersey City seeks to make up for the $70 million deficit while minimizing the layoffs that might prove necessary when the COVID-19 outbreak subsides. The City is also attempting to minimize future tax increases.

See More: NJ Orders Non-Essential Construction to Cease, Face Masks Required

“As local governments nationwide face devastating financial fallout, here in Jersey City we’re working to mitigate the community impacts as much as is possible, but the help needed at the local level from state and federal government is significant,” Fulop continued.

Jersey City government employees with more than 15 years under their belt are asked to voluntarily quit, making more than 400 workers eligible. Any employees interested in accepting the $20,000 deal {or 25% of their salary}, should respond by April 20th, 2020. These employees will then “voluntarily quit” by May 1st.

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Written by:

Jen is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Hoboken Girl. She started the site to discover and share the wealth of things happening in Hudson County. Her roots in the area extend to her maternal grandparents, who owned two textile factories in Weehawken and North Bergen. When not planning the next Hoboken Girl event/volunteer project or editing her life away, she can usually be found shopping at local boutiques, eating an Insta-worthy meal, walking her French bulldog + rescue pup, or watching the latest murder doc on Netflix with her husband.


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