New Jersey court rules school district cannot pay salaries of union representatives

In a unanimous decision issued Aug. 21, a New Jersey appellate court ruled the Jersey City Board of Education cannot use public funds to pay the salaries of union representatives.

Who are the parties to the suit?
Plaintiffs Moshe Rozenblit and Won Kyu Rim reside within the Jersey City school district. They were represented by the Goldwater Institute. The defendants were the Jersey City Public Schools, the Jersey City Board of Education, and the Jersey City Education Association (the union representing the district’s teachers).

What was at issue?
The plaintiffs challenged a section of the collective bargaining agreement between the Jersey City Board of Education and the Jersey City Education Association that requires the board to pay the salaries of two teachers working full-time as union representatives. The plaintiffs specifically alleged that this section of the agreement violated Article VIII, Section 3, Paragraph 3 of the state constitution: “No donation of land or appropriation of money shall be made by the State or any county or municipal corporation to or for the use of any society, association, or corporation whatever.”

Meanwhile, the defendants held that the challenged provision was valid under Section 18A:30-7 of the New Jersey Statutes, which permits local boards of education to pay salaries in cases of absence not constituting sick leave. A lower state court had upheld this provision of the collective bargaining agreement, prompting the plaintiffs to appeal.

How did the court rule?
The panel was made up of Judges Jose L. Fuentes, Francis J. Vernoia, and Scott J. Moynihan. Writing for the court, Fuentes said: “Mindful of the principles of statutory construction, we conclude that N.J.S.A. 18A:30-7 does not empower the Board in this case to continue to pay the salaries and benefits of the president of the JCEA and his or her designee, while they devote their entire work-time to the business and affairs of the union.” The court declined to address the constitutional arguments made by the plaintiffs.

What are the responses?

  • Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches said, “Today is a great day for New Jersey taxpayers, because this puts an end to an egregious form of government cronyism. Today’s decision will help ensure that private unions no longer benefit from public dollars.”
  • Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas said, “We are intrigued by the ruling which only targets teacher’s unions which constitutes the single largest group of public employees while allowing other non-school staff public employee unions to continue the current release arrangement paid for by tax dollars.”

What comes next?
According to Hudson County View, “sources close to JCEA said that the union plans to fight the appellate court decision at this time.” The case name and number are Rozenblit v. Lyles, A-1611-17T1.

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 102 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.

Union Station map September 6, 2019.png

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Union Station status chart September 6, 2019.png

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Union Station partisan chart September 6, 2019.png

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of legislative actions taken since our last issue. Bills are listed in alphabetical order, first by state then by bill number.

  • California AB314: This bill would require employers to grant employees paid time for certain union activities.
    • Senate Appropriations Committee hearing scheduled Aug. 30.