EDISON – In a rare show of unity, the normally contentious Edison council joined together to call on Mayor Jun Choi to reinstate six firefighters who were laid off this month to help balance the budget.
Hundreds of firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and residents packed into the council chambers last week to voice support for the resolution.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Council President AnneMarie Griffin-Ussak said after the vote.
“Nobody wants layoffs. There’s no reason why we can’t continue to look for other ways.”
Edison is currently operating with a temporary three-month budget until officials can figure out how to close an $8.4 million shortfall in the town’s finances. Last Wednesday’s meeting was intended to address the budget crisis, but after the audience spoke against the layoffs for three hours, Griffin-Ussak moved the rest of the items on the agenda to the council’s Aug. 12 meeting.
Choi asked the town’s 11 unions for wage freezes and other concessions to help close the deficit; most agreed, but the fire union refused to negotiate.
Fire union president Robert Yackel says that the layoffs are political retribution because the union endorsed Councilwoman Antonia Ricigliano, Choi’s opponent in last month’s primary election.
The union lost its bid to get a court restraining order to prevent the layoffs last week. Judge Glenn Berman denied the motion after a court hearing that lasted 90 minutes on July 24.
The judge referred to a statement by Fire Chief Norman Jensen, which said the layoffs would not impact public safety, when he announced his decision. Berman said the union could not show sufficient evidence that “irreparable harm” would be done because of the layoffs.
A trial date is set for Aug. 31 to determine if Edison displayed good faith in laying off the firefighters. The judge also ordered the township to provide necessary information to the union for an audit.
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