Mondale Unveils $11-Billion Education Package
The New Jersey Assembly has passed a bill that would markedly expand the bargaining rights of teachers and other public employees in the state.
Under current law, as interpreted by the State Supreme Court in a 1978 case, teachers and school systems must negotiate on issues that involve the "terms and conditions of employment"--such as benefits, wages, and hours--and they must not negotiate on certain other subjects--such as the use of pension funds.
Assembly Bill 585, which passed in the lower chamber of the state legislature by a vote of 59 to 15, would add procedures for disciplining teachers to the list of mandatory bargaining topics; and it would add any subject specifically covered by state statute (such as the number of days in the school year) to the list of subjects that may not be negotiated.
It would also create a third category of "permissive" topics for negotiation. These would include any other issues that school systems and their teachers agree to put on the bargaining table, including such things as class size, teacher promotion and layoff policies, textbook selection, curriculum decisions, and procedures for evaluation of teachers.
The bill would also allow local bargaining on state-education-department regulations, a provision that is strongly opposed by Commissioner of Education Saul Cooperman. He also opposes the bill's classification of teacher-dismissal procedures as a mandatory bargaining issue. The legislation would not legalize strikes.
Bargaining on "permissive" topics is not uncommon in the approximately 33 states that have collective-bargaining statues, according to Sandra Wiesmann, director of field services for the American Federation of Teachers. Though many states do not make explicit provision for it, as the New Jersey bill would, she said.
The New Jersey Education Association, which represents a majority of the state's 90,000 teachers, has led the state's public-employee organizations in their effort to move the bill through the legislature. It has spent about $200,000 for radio spots, billboard space, and leaflets in a recent public-relations campaign, according to James P. Connerton, the organization's executive director. It also brought several hundred teachers to fill the Assembly spectator's gallery as the chamber voted on the bill earlier this month.
Mr. Connerton said the bill "reasserts" the intent of state's 1968 public-employment law, which provided for permissive collective bargaining. In 1978, the state's supreme court ruled in the case of Ridge-field Park Education Association v. Ridgefield Park Board of Education that the language of the 1968 law was ambiguous and the court limited public-sector bargaining to the terms and conditions of employment. However, the court said the legislature could provide for permissive bargaining as long as it did not do away with the special management prerogatives of public-sector employers--publicly elected school boards.
"The bill will signal to classroom teachers that their input is highly valued," Mr. Connerton said. "It will give them a morale boost." He also said the expansion of bargaining rights provided for in the bill "does not take anything away from management in terms of its prerogative," because it requires school-board approval of each subject to be bargained.
The New Jersey School Boards Association does not agree. "Boards cannot and should not be allowed to negotiate prerogatives that they, as the public's representatives, retain for the benefit of the public," said Octavius T. Reid Jr., deputy executive director of the organization. "There is a big difference between professional input and professional control; [the latter] is like having the fox guarding the chicken coop."
"Anything and everything may be brought up at the bargaining table,'' he said. "The teacher union says this doesn't matter because the school board can refuse to discuss anything they want. To anyone who's ever sat at a bargaining table, that's ridiculous. You always give up one of two things--money or management prerogative."
"If this bill is passed," Mr. Reid added, "we will see a gradual erosion of the participation of parents and other interested citizens as professional control increases in policy areas. We cannot afford that, the public is aready dismayed at what is happening in the schools.''
The bill has been referred to committee in the state Senate. Mr. Reid said there is an even chance that the Senate will pass the bargaining bill. Gov. Thomas H. Kean has not taken a position on the bill, though as an assemblyman he supported the state's 1968 public-employment law.
Vol. 02, Issue 34