State v. Professional Ass'n of N. J. Dept. of Ed.

Decision Date05 February 1974
Citation315 A.2d 1,64 N.J. 231
Parties, 85 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2635, 73 Lab.Cas. P 53,253 In the Matter of STATE of New Jersey, Respondent, v. PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION OF NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Petitioner-Appellant. STATE of New Jersey, Respondent, v. NEW JERSEY INSTITUTIONS AND AGENCIES EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, Petitioner-Appellant. STATE of New Jersey, Appellant, v. The NEW JERSEY STATE NURSES' ASSOCIATION and the Jersey Nurses' Economic Security Organization, Petitioners-Respondents.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Edward F. Ryan, Sp. Counsel to the Governor's Employee Relations Policy Council, Newark, for State of N.J., in both cases (James J. Crowley, Jr., Newark, on the brief).

William S. Greenberg, Trenton, for petitioners-appellants Professional Ass'n of N.J. Dept. of Ed. and N.J. Institutions and Agencies Ed. Ass'n (Sterns & Greenberg, Trenton, attorneys; Michael J. Herbert, Trenton, on the brief).

Ronald H. De Maria, Newark, for petitioners-respondents The N.J. State Nurses' Ass'n and The N.J. Nurses' Economic Security Organization (Lum, Biunno & Tompkins, Newark, attorneys).

David A. Wallace (of the New York Bar, New York City, admitted pro hac vice) argued the cause for Public Employment Relations Commission (John F. Lanson, Newark, of counsel; Maurice J. Nelligan, Jr., Trenton, on the brief).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by

CONFORD, P.J.A.D., Temporarily Assigned.

We have here for consideration an issue of far reaching importance in the construction and application of the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, N.J.S.A. 34:13A--1 et seq. as amended by L.1968, c. 303, in particular relation to determination of public employee negotiating units.

The Public Employment Relations Commission ('PERC'), contrary to separate recommendations of hearing officers in the respective cases, denied unit representational status to statewide organizations of registered nurses, in one case, and to an organization of professional educational employees in the Departments of Education and of Institutions and Agencies, in the other. The decision in the nurses' case was reversed by the Appellate Division on appeal in a short, unreported per curiam opinion, substantially for the reasons set forth in the report of the hearing officer in that case. We granted certification. 63 N.J. 557, 310 A.2d 472 (1973).

We also, on our own motion, certified the PERC determination in the educators' case while that was pending on appeal in the Appellate Division, 63 N.J. 562, 310 A.2d 477 (1973), and consolidated it for hearing with the appeal in the nurses' case.

This litigation began with the filing by the New Jersey State Nurses' Association (NJSNA) in 1969 of a petition with PERC under the 1968 act for representation of all registered nurses employed by the State Department of Institutions and Agencies. Because of objections by the State based upon the supervisory nature of some of the positions involved, the case was ultimately submitted on amended petitions by Jersey Nurses' Economic Security Organization (JNESO), an affiliate of NJSNA, and by NJSNA itself, for representation, respectively, of all non-supervisory registered nurses employed by the State and all supervisory registered nurses so employed.

At the hearing before a hearing officer the State, acting through the Governor's Employee Relations Office on behalf of the Governor's Employee Relations Policy Council (see Executive Orders 3 and 4, L.1970, pp. 1230--1234), opposed the petitions on the ground that the best interests of the State and its employees, within the guidelines of the statute, would be served by a representational unit comprising substantially all professional employees of the State (excluding college faculties) rather than by the many separate units which would presumably ensue from the the acceptance of units based solely on distinct professional identity, as in the case of registered nurses. The nurses, on the other hand, stressed their strong 'community of interest' in their profession, pointed to the success they had had in previous negotiations with the State, and indicated possible areas of conflict of interest if they should be grouped with professionals generally, E.g., doctors.

The hearing officer found that the two nurses' units petitioned for would involve about 800 persons sharing about 30 job (civil service) titles; that the professional negotiating unit proposed by the State would (of the over 40,000 state employees) comprise some 6,300 persons in a range of about 550 job titles. He referred to the statutory direction that '(t)he negotiating unit shall be defined with due regard for the community of interest among the employees concerned * * *', N.J.S.A. 34:13A--5.3. He found the community of interest factor satisfied by a unit confined to registered nurses in view of 'the historical recognition of nursing as a separate and distinct academic discipline, its acceptance as a recognized profession and its maintenance of organizations' such as the petitioner NJSNA, 'concerned with internal self-discipline, training and the maintenance of standards and ethics on both a national and statewide basis'. He also referred to the licensing requirements of New Jersey law applicable to registered nurses.

The hearing officer felt that the stated factors were sufficient to establish the petitioning units as 'appropriate' under the act. He pointed further to the relatively large proportion of the total 6,300 professionals comprised by the nurses and to the history of prior negotiations of the organization with state representatives.

The educators' case began with the filing in June 1970 by the Professional Association of the New Jersey Department of Education of a petition with PERC requesting certification as the negotiating representative for the professional non-supervisory educational employees in the Department of Education and the Katzenbach School for the Deaf. In October 1970 the New Jersey Institutions and Agencies Education Association similarly petitioned to represent professional, non-supervisory educational employees of the Department of Institutions and Agencies. After the commencement of hearings before a hearing officer (not the one who heard the nurses' case) these petitions were joined to indicate a single petitioner requesting representation of all the personnel covered by both petitions. It was also informally indicated that the petitioner would expand its representation to the professional educational employees in the Department of Higher Education, and to miscellaneous others, so as to achieve statewide coverage of the category. Some of the employees in the proposed unit are teachers but most perform administrative work in overseeing the general public educational system. The total would approximate 1,200 persons.

During the hearings the State took basically the same position in objection to this unit as it had in the nurses' case. The preferable unit was argued to be one of all state-employed professionals, the requisite 'community of interest' being reflected by their common status as professionals and the standards, attainments and status inherent therein as such. Stress was laid on the fact that 'professionals' are expressly mentioned in the statute, with the implication that this is a permissible unit category. N.J.S.A. 34:13A--6(d). Moreover, the requirements in the Civil Service laws and rules for uniformity in schedules of compensation and regulations as to working conditions were argued to narrow the potential range of negotiability as to working conditions relative to professional employees and therefore to militate in favor of broadly inclusive rather than limited units of representation. The structure of the state government and its bargaining position were contended also to constitute relevant factors.

The hearing officer found that the requested unit was appropriate and should be recommended. He pointed to the community of interest indicated by the fact that all members of the unit were working in the field of education and that almost all were certified to teach. Both departmental groups, moreover, were affiliated with the New Jersey Education Association, a long recognized representative of school teachers. The unit envisaged was regarded as 'a logical functional group of such employees', having no conflicts of interest. The hearer thought some six or eight such groups could be constituted out of all the professional employees of the State. The sooner certifications were granted to some groups of professional employees the sooner, it was thought, negotiations on behalf of all such groups could begin, as contemplated by the Legislature. The hearer did not regard a unit of all 6,300 professional employees as an appropriate unit because the diversity of functions and occupations involved would preclude effective and meaningful representation.

After receiving briefs and argument PERC disposed of both sets of applications in one decision. P.E.R.C. No. 68 (May 23, 1972. In dismissing the petitions in both cases the Commission said it was relying on the policy of the statute and the community of interest of the concerned employees. The Commission first reviewed its previous decision in Neuropsychiatric Institute, P.E.R.C. No. 50, that the scope of units of state employees must be statewide, regarding that ruling as a foundation for its decision in the present cases. It said, in reference thereto:

* * * Expressed and implied in that conclusion was an assessment that the strength and significance of the factors cited--in brief, a high degree of centralization of authority in the top echelon of State government and a general uniformity of major terms and conditions of employment for State employees--required a finding that the first distinctive level of common interest among employees extended state-wide and that this was the minimum level for...

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