Camden's chief operating officer said yesterday that he would not abide by union agreements in deciding which workers would lose their jobs in the imminent layoff of city government employees.
"We have gone through a whole process that probably equates more favorably than civil service," said Theodore Z. Davis.
Davis had been expected to make a formal announcement yesterday about who would receive a pink slip. He said that he had delayed the announcement and did not specify a new date.
Civil service - a 100-year-old system in New Jersey that affords protections such as due process and seniority rights to unionized municipal employees - no longer applies in Camden, according to the New Jersey Department of Personnel.
Department spokesman Mark Perkiss said yesterday that a 2002 law that gave the state broad power over the city's finances allows Davis, who was appointed by the governor, to "operate outside" of the system used by municipalities throughout New Jersey.
This came as news to the union, Camden County Council 10, which signed a collective-bargaining agreement with the previous COO, Melvin R. "Randy" Primas, that is still in force.
The lawyer for the union, James Katz, said there was no language in the 2002 law that gives Davis the power to bypass union agreements. Katz vowed to seek an injunction as soon as layoffs are announced.
"If [Davis] feels he's above civil-service provisions, then he has to negotiate with the union," Katz said. "What he can't do is ignore civil service, ignore the union, and take the law into his own hands."
In early September, Davis announced that by the end of that month, he would help close a projected budget deficit by terminating as many as 60 positions.
On Tuesday, he presented City Council with a budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year that called for 31 job cuts. He said he would notify the affected employees by the end of the week.
Yesterday, Davis postponed that announcement, saying he needed more time to analyze the budget. "I'm just trying to be careful," he said.
Davis said that the criteria he is using to decide who will be laid off is fairer to employees than the union's formula.
The protracted layoff process has taken its toll on employees at City Hall, who are anxious to know if they will still have jobs.
Mayor Gwendolyn Faison said two employees passed out from anxiety on Thursday and were hospitalized.
Faison, who had her mayoral powers "reallocated" to the chief operating officer according to the language of the 2002 law, said she had not been consulted on the layoffs. "It's really disrespectful," she said.
"He doesn't share the information," Faison said of Davis. "I feel so badly because, as the mayor, employees ask me questions. The tension is just that high. You're talking about people's livelihoods."
Davis has not responded to letters and requests for meetings from the union, Katz said.
Davis can lay people off, Katz said, but he must follow established civil-service procedures, including:
Seniority rights, which let the more tenured employee keep a job when two identical positions are cut to one.
Bumping rights, which allow a laid-off employee with seniority to reassume a position he or she previously held.
Recall rights, which guarantee a laid-off worker his or her job back if the city's finances improve and the position reopens.
Due-process rights, which ensure a laid-off employee a hearing.
City Council President Angel Fuentes said he worried about the lawsuits that could result from layoffs that violated civil-service rules.
"We don't have the money to fight potential lawsuits that could get out of control," he said.