The Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act, Bill A3686, was released by the Assembly Labor Committee on Monday, March 19.

This legislation would impose various requirements on public employers to ensure that labor organizations have access to, and the ability to communicate with, public employees. An identical bill, S2317, was released last week from the Senate Labor Committee.

NJSBA Governmental Relations Director Michael Vrancik provided testimony on the bill, along with representatives from the N.J. Association of Counties, the state League of Municipalities and the Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Highlights of the NJSBA’s testimony are as follows:

NJSBA believes that A3686, in its current form, constitutes an overreach into matters that have traditionally been addressed through the collective negotiations process. The collective bargaining process between representatives of both labor and management enables both parties to come together to establish the terms and conditions of employment. NJSBA respects the collective bargaining process and believes employees have a right to bargain collectively through their selected employee organizations.

The NJSBA further believes that negotiations in local school districts should not jeopardize local control and opposes initiatives and efforts that would reduce local control of the negotiations process. By establishing strict, minimum parameters regarding the rights of unions and the responsibilities of employers to provide certain access and information to such unions, the bill intrudes into matters that are currently, and should remain, subjects of collective negotiations.

For example, section 3 of A-3686 essentially grants unions unfettered access to public employees on school district property. We feel that the provisions of section 3 are overly prescriptive and do not take into account the distinct characteristics, conditions and priorities of individual communities. The NJSBA does not dispute that unions have the right to meet with and discuss matters of employment with the employees they represent, whether on or off school property. Our members also respect this right, which is why many collectively negotiated agreements include provisions that recognize and establish various rights, responsibilities and privileges of employee organizations, including but not limited to the following:

  • Permission to use school facilities and equipment;
  • Right to use inter-school mail facilities and school mail boxes;
  • Exclusive use of bulletin board space in areas where faculty congregate;
  • Leave time for employees to conduct union business or attend certain meetings or conferences; and
  • Right to speak and solicit membership in the union for new employees, such as at new employee orientation

However, these provisions often include additional language designed to balance the rights of the union with management’s obligation to minimize any interruption with the normal, day-to-day operations of the school district. For example, prior administrative approval by either the superintendent or principal is often required before the union is granted the use of school facilities and equipment. The principal is also often granted the authority to determine the time and place where union representatives may meet with their members, which helps prevent any interference with the operation of the school or the function of the instructional program. A-3686, as introduced, does not include sufficient assurances that district operations will not be adversely impacted by union activity on school property.

The NJSBA is also concerned that A-3686 violates employee privacy rights. Another concern is the requirement that implementation of certain provisions of A-3686 are enforceable through the parties’ grievance procedures, which shall include binding arbitration. Any grievance procedure regarding a union’s access to its members should be negotiated between the two parties, and not dictated by strict statutory language.

Section 4 of A-3686 explicitly forbids employers from encouraging members to resign from the union, or discouraging an employee from joining, forming or assisting an employee organization. These provisions are unnecessary as existing law already protects public sector unions and their members in exercising their rights and prohibits public employers from interfering in union activity.

Finally, we are also inclined to raise concerns on a provision of section 5 that would automatically place both full-time and part-time employees in the union. It is not uncommon for school districts to require employees to work a minimum number of hours before they are eligible to join the union, such as at least 50 percent of the work schedule. This provision effectively grants part-time staff the rights and benefits of full-time employees. It is inappropriate for the Legislature to be dictating which employees will be included in the bargaining unit.

For the reason cited above, the NJSBA respectfully requests that the Legislature consider the adverse impact that A-3686 would have on the operations of local school districts, as well as its interference in the traditional collective bargaining process that aims to maintain a delicate balance between the rights and obligations of New Jersey’s public employers and employees.