The merger of two Atlantic City-based state authorities expected to produce efficiencies and potentially boost the resort’s convention market also has left some concerned about employees’ futures.
After two years of discussion, documents were executed Wednesday allowing the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority to fold into the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. The move, dictated by state legislation but stalled by a complex bond transfer process, leaves the CRDA in control of the Atlantic City Convention Center and Boardwalk Hall.
State legislation requires employees, assets and liabilities of the ACCVA to be absorbed by CRDA.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said there’s no doubt the merger should be positive for the facilities’ operations. He noted the authority has been hamstrung by the pending merger because it was unable to replace some employees as they left. But the merger leaves open the possibility that ACCVA employees might not be fully protected in the future, he said.
State legislation that created the Tourism District included some provisions addressing ACCVA employees’ rights after the merger, but subsequent “clean up” legislation to the bill introduced last year was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. The new legislation would have added clearer specifications about the employees rights following the merger.
Whelan said he’s been told that regardless of the legislation, CRDA will honor the seniority of the ACCVA employees, but that alone hasn’t allayed all of his concerns. CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri has said there are no plans for layoffs.
“I know John (Palmieri) is a man of his word, but what happens with the next executive director of CRDA?” Whelan said. “I don’t want to be an alarmist here, but it just gives me pause. The problem is it doesn’t have the force of law. CRDA could change its policy tomorrow.”
The 2011 Tourism District legislation did address some aspects of the merger and states ACCVA employees will retain all of their rights and status regarding any pension or retirement system.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, Palmieri said the direction given in the legislation is clear.
“CRDA’s interpretation of the statute is that ACCVA employees retain all of the benefits, including pension and status,” he said.
The legislation introduced last year, however, would have gone further. Christie vetoed a section that stated employees could not be deprived of any of their existing salaries, benefits or titles. He also vetoed a section guaranteeing seniority would be determined according to the criteria that was used by ACCVA prior to the transfer.
A similar model was used when the New Jersey Highway Authority, which ran the Garden State Parkway, was merged with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority in 2003.
In the conditional veto issued in February, Christie wrote that CRDA needs flexibility and freedom from “burdensome, bureaucratic, and overly-restrictive” state regulations to do its job effectively.
“Regrettably, some provisions of this bill fail to recognize that goal and would serve to tie the hands of the very agency that the legislature and I entrusted and empowered to carry out the difficult task of revitalization in Atlantic City,” Christie wrote. “For instance, the bill proposes to restrict the CRDA’s ability to manage its work force by statutorily establishing conditions of employment affecting persons transferred to the CRDA by operation of the Tourism District law.”
State Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, has voiced similar concerns about the governor’s decision to veto the legislation.
“If they were to come in and tell someone their years of service to ACCVA aren’t worth anything, I just don’t think that’s fair. These are people who have been dedicated to their careers,” Amodeo said.
The Tourism District legislation also mandated the Atlantic City Special Improvement District become a division of CRDA, a transition that took place in 2011. But the SID merger did not touch on similar issues. The district was a nonprofit organization and did not have public employees.
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