On Thursday, May 17 Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law legislation designed to ensure New Jersey’s public sector unions have sufficient access to the employees they represent.  Entitled the “Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act,” the bill is a direct response to pending litigation before the United States Supreme Court, Janus v AFSCME, which challenges the constitutionality of union “agency shop” or “fair share” fees.

A ruling against the unions, which is expected in late spring or early summer, could result in decline in union membership across the country and a subsequent loss of revenue.

The measure, A-3686/S-2137, takes effect immediately and includes a series of provisions that would grant union representatives access to prospective and existing members of their respective bargaining units.  Under the new law, “access” includes:

  • The right to meet with individual employees on the premises of the public employer during the work day to investigate and discuss grievances, workplace-related complaints, and other workplace issues;
  • The right to conduct worksite meetings during lunch and other non-work breaks, and before and after the workday, on the employer’s premises to discuss workplace issues, collective negotiations, the administration of collective negotiations agreements, other matters related to the duties of an exclusive representative employee organization, and internal union matters involving the governance or business of the exclusive representative employee organization; and
  • The right to meet with newly-hired employees, without charge to the pay or leave time of the employees, for a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 120 minutes, within 30 calendar days from the date of hire, during new employee orientations, or at individual or group meetings.

In addition, boards of education and other public employers would be required to send to unions the personal contact information of all new and existing employees, which would include each employee’s name, job title, worksite location, home address, work telephone numbers, and any home and personal cellular telephone numbers on file with the public employer, date of hire, and work email address and any personal email address on file with the public employer.  Such information would also have to be updated every 120 days.

The measure also grants exclusive representative employee organizations the right to use the email systems of public employers to communicate with negotiations unit members, as well as the right to use government buildings to conduct meetings, provided such use does not interfere with governmental operations or be utilized for political purposes.

Upon the request of the union, a public employer will be required to negotiate over the access requirements described above to memorialize the parties’ agreement to implement them.  Such negotiations must commence within 10 days of a union request, and any disputes would be settled through binding arbitration.

Furthermore, the bill explicitly prohibits public employers from encouraging employees to relinquish membership in the union or discouraging them from joining the union.  The bill establishes penalties for failing to comply with such prohibitions.

Beyond the access requirements, the measure also includes provisions that dictate which employees will be automatically included in negotiations unit.  By law, all regular full-time and part-time employees who perform negotiations unit work will now be included in the negotiations unit.  This requirement supersedes any threshold of hours or percent of time worked provisions included in any existing recognition clause or collective negotiations agreement.

The bill also amends longstanding law concerning when employees can opt out of paying dues to the union.  Previously, employees could provide notice to their employer at any time throughout the year of their desire to no longer have union dues deducted from their paychecks, which would be effective on the January 1 or July 1 next following.  Under the new law, such notice may only be provided in the 10-day period following an employee’s anniversary date, and would go into effect after 30 days.

Upon signing the legislation, Governor Murphy indicated that there may be a need for further legislation to ensure that it does not conflict with the impending Janus decision. He also expressed come concerns regarding the release of employees’ personal information. In a signing statement, the governor wrote:

“I am concerned, however, that certain of the provisions of New Jersey law enacted today may be determined to conflict in some manner with the legal parameters anticipated to be set forth in the forthcoming ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. In the event that appropriate clarifying amendments are necessary following the Supreme Court’s decision, I will work closely with the sponsors to enact any required changes. I am also sensitive to the privacy concerns of our public employees and recognize the need to prevent the improper use of personal identifying information collected under the terms of this act. As a result, I am directing state agencies, when implementing this act, to develop sufficient procedures to protect sensitive personal employee information and to restrict its use solely to achieve the act’s purposes.”

The NJSBA and other organizations representing public employers, such as the N.J. Association of Counties and League of Municipalities, strongly objected to the bill’s requirements. The groups argued that matters concerning access to employees have traditionally been handled at the bargaining table, rather than dictated by statute, and should remain subjects of negotiation.  NJSBA believes that the legislation overreaches into the collective bargaining process, has the potential to disrupt the daily operation of our schools, and creates an unfair imbalance in the labor-management relationship.  The employer groups also felt the legislation was premature as the Janus decision has not yet been handed down.

Gun Safety Measures Continue to Advance On Monday, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved a package of bills aimed at reducing gun violence and increasing firearm safety.  Such bills would, among other things, keep guns away from those who pose a threat to themselves or others; reduce the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines; enhance background checks; and ban armor-piercing ammunition.  All of the following measures are supported by the NJSBA:

S-102/A-2761 bans firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Magazines capable of holding up to 15 rounds of ammunition currently are legal in New Jersey.

S-160/A-1181 requires law enforcement, upon order of the court, to seize a firearm that is in the possession of a person determined by certain licensed health care professionals to be likely to engage in conduct that poses a threat of serious harm to the patient or another person.

S-2245/A-2759 prohibits the possession of armor piercing ammunition, and makes it a crime of the fourth degree to possess or manufacture such ammunition.

S-2374/A-2757 requires background checks for private gun sales. The bill requires all sales or other transfers of a handgun, rifle, or shotgun to be conducted through a state-licensed retail dealer or Federal Firearms Licensee. The bill requires the retail dealer or licensee to complete a National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) on the recipient of the firearm.

S-2376/A-2758 codifies regulations defining a “justifiable need” to carry a handgun into state statute.  “Justifiable need” is defined as the urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit to carry.

Following policy language adopted at the May 19 Delegate Assembly, the Association advocated in support of the proposed enhancements and changes to laws governing firearms access. (See related story in School Board Notes.)

All of the gun safety bills have already passed the full General Assembly and are primed for vote on the Senate floor.