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N.J. County Distributes $17M in Back Pay to Officers

Passaic County distributed nearly $17 million in checks this week to about 750 active and retired sheriff's officers who were owed back pay as part of hard-fought contract negotiations.

Now comes a new battle: ensuring that everyone gets his fair share.

Union leaders say a "copious" number of their members were grossly overpaid, paid far too little or not paid at all, which has led the unions to hire their own accountant to investigate.

"What a nightmare," said Mike Abdinoor, president of Local 286, which represents 170 sheriff's officers.

The checks come more than three months after a state arbitrator settled a long-running contract dispute between the unions and the county, ruling in June that the sheriff's office employees will receive an almost 20 percent raise over eight years. That includes retroactive pay from 2007 -- the year the department's last contract expired.

Officers from both the sheriff's office and corrections received checks averaging $20,000, with high-ranking officers making more. The payments came out of a county reserve of about $25 million.

"We know it hasn't been done correctly," said Capt. Joseph DeFranco, president of PBA 197, representing 45 superior corrections officers.

County spokesman Keith Furlong said there were some miscalculations and officials have met the union leadership to resolve them.

"We knew it was going to be a complex matter," he said. "We're going to work with them to get it right so everyone gets every dollar they deserve."

Furlong said more payments may come after overtime stipends are tallied.

Additionally, union leaders are negotiating with the sheriff's office over stipends for detectives. Since 2008, when the department was hit with layoffs, the traditional bonuses ranging from $1,500 to $5,500 were suspended to save jobs even though the payments were part of the collective bargaining agreement.

But some union officials are urging the payments should resume.

Until recently, the stipend system had become haphazard: corrections detectives received no stipend, for example, while other sheriff's department officers receive the pay even though they are no longer detectives. Abdinoor said he also is seeking back pay in lost stipends for his members.

Sheriff Richard Berdnik, in an effort to organize the system, issued a memo in late September that designated detective status only to officers in certain divisions, such as narcotics and gang intelligence. The department currently has 38 detectives.

One of the divisions listed is the community policing unit, which Berdnik said warranted detectives because it is "a collaboration between the police and the community that identifies and solves community problems."

E-mail: patberg@northjersey.com

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