Skip to comments.Lawyer's love of labor
Posted on 08/28/2005 4:44:26 PM PDT by Coleus
Richard Loccke laughs sheepishly when he's told what other lawyers say about his demeanor at the bargaining table.
"I've never intimidated anybody," he says in his standard baritone. "I've never exploited anyone."
As a labor lawyer who has thrived in the rough-and-tumble backrooms of collective bargaining for more than 30 years, Loccke knows full well what he brings to negotiations. His tenacious bargaining skills, mastery of the state's arbitration laws and vast client list have had an enormous impact on police salaries and municipal budgets, his friends, clients and critics say.
"Rich is the best police labor attorney in the country, not just the state," said David Jones, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association, the largest police union in the state and one of Loccke's clients.
"If somebody asked would you mind getting in the ring with Mike Tyson, my machismo says yeah," Jones said. "My common sense would say I like where my eyes and nose are. That's what it's like when you go up against Rich."
Loccke and his six-member firm in Hackensack have represented nearly every police union in Bergen and Passaic counties at one time or another and have helped change the way police are compensated statewide.
With the help of arbitration laws of the late 1970s, police salaries have climbed steadily. In 2005, the average police officer in New Jersey earned a base salary of $72,123, up from $59,387 in 2000, according to the New Jersey Policemen's Benevolent Association.
Loccke, 60, downplays his role in helping to increase police salaries even though he has represented hundreds of unions since the labor-friendly arbitration laws went into effect. He says the modernization of police work, and the demand for more technological and psychological skills, have moved law enforcement from "a job to a professional career."
"Our expectations of [police officers] are very high, and we're entitled to get the best," Loccke said. "They're held to a higher standard today and their compensation has followed that."
Loccke, the grandson of Sicilian immigrants, grew up in Rutherford, where his father managed a car dealership and his mother managed the house. He graduated from Seton Hall Law School in 1970 and worked briefly for an insurance company before going into labor law.
Loccke started his firm with longtime friend Manny Correia, who died in 1996, and set out representing police and fire unions in contract negotiations.
"The reason he's so good is that he concentrates on one thing," Jones said. "He could glean third-party suits on other police matters, but he doesn't."
His biggest contract coup came in 1977, when Loccke negotiated one of the best deals a police union in New Jersey ever got.
Loccke secured the Bergen County Police a contract that essentially guaranteed the officers' pay would be within 5 percent of the highest-paid police force in Bergen County. The rationale is that because they could be asked to respond in any of the county's 70 towns, their pay should be among the top.
Over the past 10 years, the top base salary for a rank-and-file county officer has jumped 55 percent to more than $92,000, an increase of twice the rate of inflation.
Two years ago, 80 percent of the 82-member force made more than $100,000, excluding overtime but including longevity perks and stipends. "I don't think they're highly paid at all," Loccke said. "You'll find virtually every single one of them has a second job or their spouse works. Nobody relies on one income in public employment. It's a very difficult thing to do.
"For what they do for county government, they are not paid enough."In 1978, the state passed a sweeping arbitration law allowing police unions, whose members are not allowed to strike, to seek state intervention when salary talks stall with town officials.
"Prior to that it was called collective begging," Loccke said.
Starting in the 1980s, when police unions in one town received a generous raise, unions in neighboring towns would argue before arbitrators that they deserved the same. A pay increase in one town usually had a ripple effect across the region.
The state revised its arbitration rules in 1996 to reduce that domino effect, requiring arbitrators to consider the financial situation of each town. But local officials maintain the changes have had only a marginal impact.
"Loccke takes full advantage of binding arbitration laws that render government bodies impotent," said Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, who negotiated with Loccke in the mid-1990s. "He goes into arbitration and cites other towns like Ridgewood, Fort Lee, Alpine. It creates this leap-frog effect, that we have to be raised to the level of more wealthy towns.
"He's a tough opponent," Lonegan said. "That's his job. It's to do the best he can for his bargaining unit, and I respect him for it."
Loccke maintains that he's just more prepared than others at the bargaining table.
If a town cries poverty, Loccke will likely have a videotape or newspaper clippings that show public works projects that he would call excessive. Recent clippings include Rutherford's plans for a $633,000 skateboard park and Fort Lee's plan to put $1.7 million worth of artificial turf in athletic fields.
"I think he has one of the most effective strategic minds on the labor side in my 25 years," said attorney Angelo Genova, who has negotiated for towns with Loccke several times. "He understands the underpinnings of public labor laws. He knows how to use them. He knows how to map out a strategy and exploit his opponent's vulnerabilities. He can be intimidating to the uninitiated."
Don't expect Loccke's dominance in labor law to diminish anytime soon.
His firm will add a sixth lawyer this summer, the most it has ever had. Already, one of the firm's lawyers lives in South Jersey and concentrates solely on representing unions there.
Loccke has not relegated himself to being a manager. He can still be found in the backrooms.
"I think he really likes what he does," Jones said. "There is a different between being an advocate and a zealot. Rich is an advocate. He knows that he's in negotiations. He knows it's give-and-take. He gets it."
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