FULL-TIME UNION BUSINESS ON BOARD’S DIME IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
In a recent decision, the Appellate Division took a close look at a Board of Education’s ability to allocate taxpayer dollars to fund union activity. The Court determined that it is beyond the scope of Board authority, and against public policy for a Board of Education to provide salary and health benefits for two teachers who served exclusively as labor leaders.
In the case of Rozenblit and Rim v. Jersey City Board of Education and Jersey City Education Association, two local taxpayers filed suit against the Jersey City Board of Education (“Board”) and its education association (“Association”), asserting that a provision of the collective bargaining agreement (“Agreement”) between the Board and Association was unauthorized by law and unenforceable. The provision in question read: “The president of the [Association] and his/her designee, shall be permitted to devote all of his/her time to [Association] business and affairs. The President shall continue to be granted adequate office and parking facilities.”
The effect of this provision was that each year, two teaching staff members were relieved of all teaching and classroom duties and devoted themselves entirely to Association business for the full academic year. Additionally, the Board adhered to the District’s practice of providing these employees with full salary and benefits during the year in which they served exclusively as labor leaders.
When news of this practice spread to the larger Jersey City community, the Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that the Agreement’s provision was unconstitutional and unenforceable. The Board and the Association, representing a rare alliance, disputed the Plaintiff’s position and argued that allowing two Association employees to devote themselves fully to Association business for the full academic year facilitated “labor peace” from which both the Board and the Association benefited.
Upon review of the provision and the Board’s associated practices, the Court determined that these designated Association members did not report to any school administrator or district official and were not subject to any administrative oversight. The two employees “act exclusively as labor leaders,” yet they received salaries and benefits “commensurate to the teachers who serve the day-to-day educational needs of the students of the District.” The Court determined that the Legislature did not authorize boards of education to disburse public funds in a manner that permits a labor unit to enjoy a unilateral benefit at the expense of the taxpayer.
Notably, the Court determined that the interests of an education association are never in continuous and full alignment with those of the Board as to justify the compensation scheme in Jersey City. The Court concluded that in fulfilling their duties to the [Association], the [two teacher staff members’] role is to advocate the interests of the [Association], even when such interests may conflict with the educational and administrative policies of the Board.” The Court could not justify the allocation of public funds held by a board of education to the salaries of individuals “exclusively devoted to the service of another organization.”
While it is possible that the Court’s decision may be appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, this decision ignites a discussion over the appropriateness of Board-funded time for Association business. It is possible that this decision may be followed by challenges to a Board allowing employees to devote work time to Association activities.
It is important to note, this case specifically addresses the authority of a Board to compensate its employees who are performing Association duties in place of their normal duties. The issue of a Board employee performing Association duties in tandem with his or her normal duties is left unresolved by this ruling.
This Alert provides information about the current developments in New Jersey education law. It is necessarily general and not intended as legal advice or a substitute for legal advice. Questions about individual issues should be addressed to the attorney of your choice. Contact Anthony P. Sciarrillo of Sciarrillo Cornell at firstname.lastname@example.org.