This action, arising from a labor dispute, involves the question whether public employees not engaged in a strike may peacefully picket or demonstrate at places of employment of members of the governing body both inside and outside of the municipality in which the dispute is pending. The issue appears to be one of first impression in this State.
The matter is before the court on the return day of an order to show cause why an interlocutory injunction should not be issued restraining members of defendant association from parading, patrolling, loitering or picketing about the premises upon which plaintiffs, who are members of the township committee, the governing body of Hillside, may be in the course of their full-time employment.
The essential facts presented by the verified complaint and the affidavits of the parties are as follows:
The township committee and defendant, a voluntary association of police officers, have reached an impasse in their 1973 employment contract negotiations. Although the Public Employment Relations Commission has been notified of the impasse, and notwithstanding there is no strike, defendant's members are picketing plaintiffs' places of employment, all but one of which are located outside of the township.
Defendant, because of its belief that the township committee has failed to live up to previously executed agreements, has determined to undertake what it says are informational demonstrations to bring this matter to the attention of the public through such demonstrations. Admittedly, the demonstrations, as defendant characterizes them, or picketing, as plaintiffs call them -- a matter of semantics -- have been conducted in front of the places of employment of various plaintiffs in Livingston, Hackensack, Newark and Hillside.
Lines are formed by 5 to 13 off-duty policemen carrying signs bearing such words as "Support Your Police," "Kulish Unfair," "Mancuso Signs In, Welches In," and similar
phrases. A merry-go-round technique is employed -- that is, the pickets form an oval and march in front of an entrance, maintaining the oval formation with each picket closely following the one in front of him. Each demonstration lasts approximately one hour. Although the picketing has been peaceful, plaintiffs Mancuso and Kulish have expressed the fear that picketing will adversely affect their employment status.
In this State public employees may not strike. Board of Education, Union Beach v. New Jersey Education Assn , 53 N.J. 29, 36 (1968). Peaceful picketing in furtherance of an unlawful purpose is not permissible and will be restrained. Id.; Delaware River and Bay Authority v. International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots , 45 N.J. 138, 150 (1965). The case at bar differs from the facts in those cases in that the Hillside police officers are not on strike and the picketing is occurring essentially at locations completely unrelated to the labor dispute. The industry of counsel and research by the court during the week since the order to show cause was issued have produced no case in which the precise question involved has been decided in this State or in fact elsewhere -- hence its novelty insofar as the court has been able to ascertain.
Defendant argues that the activity of its members is within the ambit of free speech and not restrainable. While it is well settled that picketing and similar activity may involve elements of First Amendment rights, Thornhill v. Alabama , 310 U.S. 88, 60 S. Ct. 736, 84 L. Ed. 1093 (1940), and that policemen are not "relegated to a watered-down version of constitutional rights," Garrity v. New Jersey , 385 U.S. 493, 500, 87 S. Ct. 616, 620, 17 L. Ed. 2d 562, 567 (1967), the Supreme Court, in International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Vogt , 354 U.S. 284, 289, 293, 77 S. Ct. 1166, 1168, 1171, 1 L. Ed. 2d 1347, 1351, 1353 (1957), reh. den. 354 U.S. 945, 77 S. Ct. 1423, 1 L. Ed. 2d 1558 (1957), said that picketing, even though peaceful,
involved more than just communication of ideas and is not immune from all state regulation. After reviewing several cases in which the court sanctioned the ...