New Jersey Ad-Hoc Lawyers' Committee to Preserve Collective Bargaining

New Jersey Legislators received this letter Monday urging them to reject the sweeping anti-union legislation currently under consideration that would strip workers of their collective bargaining rights.

Dear Senator,

In Wisconsin and other states across the country, public employee collective bargaining is facing an unprecedented assault. Here in New Jersey, the collective bargaining rights of public employees are also under attack. Governor Christie and Senators Sweeney and Beck are proposing legislation that sets out in law specific percentages of healthcare premiums that public employees will have to pay. By legislating the percentages of healthcare premiums, as Senate Bill 2718 does, the Legislature will make collective bargaining over the most significant aspect of health benefits illegal.

Since 1968, New Jersey public employees have been permitted to bargain over terms and conditions of employment, including health benefits. N.J.S.A. 34:13-5.3. New Jersey's courts have recognized that "employees have a strong interest in having health insurance and in obtaining that insurance on an affordable group basis. The State can protect its budgetary interest in the negotiation process." In re Council of New Jersey State College Locals, AFT, AFL-CIO, 336 N.J. Super. 167, 170 (App. Div. 2001).

Over the last decade, through collective bargaining, many unions and public employers have worked together to address rising healthcare costs. The Governor's budget proposal and Senate Bill 2718 would remove health insurance premium contributions from the arena of collective bargauining and make it illegal to bargain for contributions different from those set by statute. Under the New Jersey Supreme Court's decisions in Ridgefield Park Ed. Ass'n v. Ridgefield Park Bd. of Ed., 78 N.J. 144 (1978) and State v. State Supervisory Employees Ass'n, 78 N.J. 54 (1978), it is illegal for public employers and unions to bargain over terms and conditions of employment that are set by statute. if Senate Bill 2718 becomes law it will be illegal for a union to propose and for an employer to agree to any deviation from that law. For example, this bill will make it illegal for a union and an employer to develop a joint healthcare cost containment plan that incentivizes healthy lifestyle choices and participation in wellness programs in order to lower employee healthcare contributions. It would also make it unlawful for an employer to agree to lower employee contributions in return for a wage freeze or other concessions.

In addition, under Senate Bill 2718, when fully implemented and depending upon annual salary, employees will be required to pay between 12% and 30% of the cost of premiums, or between $2,160 and $5,400 a year toward a family healthcare plan that now costs $18,000 and has increased in cost each year far faster than the rate of inflation. This would be a dramatic increase above what employees currently pay. This substantial reduction in salary would be legislatively imposed outside the bargaining process.

Legislating salary reductions of thousands of dollars eviscerates collective bargaining and promotes labor instability. As the New Jersey Supreme Court observed, the unilateral imposition of working conditions is the "antithesis of [the Legislature's] goal that the terms and conditions of public employment be established through bilateral negotiation and, to the extent possible, agreement between the public employer and the majority representative of its employees." Galloway Tp. Bd. of Ed. v Galloway Tp. Ed. Ass'n, 78 N.J. 25, 48-49 (1978).

New Jersey legislators should not align themselves with elected officials, such as Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who are seeking to deprive public employees of their democratic right to collectively bargain over terms and conditions of employment. Bargaining over healthcare benefits should not be illegal in New Jersey.

Matthew D. Areman          Sidney H. Lehmann

David B. Beckett          Michael H. Limsky

Walter R. Bliss          Craig H. Livingston

Louis Bucceri          Richard D. Loccke

Michael A. Bukowsky          Kevin P. McGovern

Rosemarie Cipparulo          Michael A. McLaughlin, Sr.

Arnold Shep Cohen          James M. Mets

Edward A. Cohen          Ira W. Mintz

Steven R. Cohen          Paul A. Montalbano

Mathew G. Connaughton          Kenneth I. Nowak

Stacey Cutler          Annmarie Pinarski

Michael C. Damm          Sheldon H. Pincus

Robert A. Fagella          Nancy I. Oxfeld

David I. Fox          Sanford R. Oxfeld

Richard A. Friedman           Molly E. Richardson

Craig S. Gumpel          Stephen C. Richman

Stephen B. Hunter          Leonard C. Schiro

Jason L. Jones          Joel S. Selikoff

Gail Oxfeld Kanef          Benjamin A. Spivack

James Katz          Marcia J. Tapia

Kathleen L. Kirvan          Keith Waldman

Paul L. Kleinbaum          Steven P. Weissman

Bruce D. Leder          James R. Zazzali

                              Bennet D. Zurofsky