Carton, Seidman and Demos. The opinion of the court was delivered by Carton, P.J.A.D.
The common problem posed by these consolidated appeals is whether collective bargaining agreements made between duly certified representatives of county welfare board employees and their respective county welfare board employers are subject to approval by the Division of Public Welfare of the State Department of Institutions and Agencies (Division). Specifically challenged here are determinations of the Commissioner disapproving such agreements because they contain salary provisions which exceed state salary guidelines promulgated for welfare board employees. A basic complaint is that such action deprives the employees of the right to bargain collectively concerning wages.
The present controversies have their genesis in the welfare assistance programs established in 1936 pursuant to the Social Security Act. At that time the Department of Institutions and Agencies promulgated a document described as "Plan for Personnel Selection Applicable to all County Welfare Boards." It included standard classifications for various personnel positions, standard methods for examining and certifying candidates for positions and approving appointments to them. This plan was later promulgated as an administrative release known simply as "Ruling 11." From time to time changes to the plan have been made in the form of amendments or revisions of the ruling.
The standard compensation plan sets forth the position titles applicable to the various classifications of employees of the county welfare boards, the position title of employees of state governmental agencies whose duties are deemed comparable,
and the applicable salary ranges for both county and state employees. The state salary range sets a minimum and maximum salary for each position.
On August 9, 1972 the Union County Welfare Board, after collective negotiations with Communications Workers, signed a proposal extending an agreement entered into in 1970 for a two-year period from January 22, 1972 through December 1973. The 1970 agreement called for the payment by Union County of starting and maximum salaries of certain employee positions above those set forth in the state salary ranges. The proposed agreement for 1972 provided that Union's previous salary ranges would be maintained and that there would be in addition a $360 across-the-board increase. The proposed agreement also provided for an accelerated schedule of incremental steps within the salary ranges.
The Essex County Welfare Board negotiated a proposed agreement on November 21, 1972 with Communications Workers of America for the two-year period extending from January 22, 1972 to December 1973. Under the proposed agreement all employees would receive a 5.5% across-the-board increase retroactive to January 1, 1972. The agreement also provided that instead of the salary range of $8,203 to $11,073, case workers would receive a normal starting salary of $8,990 with a maximum of $12,014.
On February 1, 1973 the Passaic County Welfare Board submitted its proposed budget for approval. This budget provided for a 4.5% across-the-board, cost-of-living increase, plus one increment to be made to each employee.
By letter, the Department of Institutions and Agencies informed the respective welfare boards that the proposed agreements would be approved except for the salary provisions. Essentially the welfare boards were advised that the salary range for all positions must comply with the state range for the same or comparable positions.
Plaintiffs Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, Essex County Welfare Board and Public Employees Supervisors
Union, etc., filed complaints in the Chancery Division challenging the action of the Commissioner of the Department of Institutions and Agencies with respect to agreements made between the employees' representatives and the welfare boards of Essex and Union Counties. Named as defendants were the Commissioner, the Acting Director of the Division of Public Welfare, and the Director of the Governor's Office of Employees Relations. In another proceeding, plaintiff Passaic County Welfare Board filed an appeal to this court from the Commissioner's disapproval of the proposed agreement between the board and its employees. The Chancery Division actions were transferred to this court and consolidated with the appeal taken by the Passaic County Welfare Board.
Plaintiff Unions charge that the state agency's action interferes with the right of collective bargaining guaranteed to public employees under the New Jersey Constitution (Art. I, par. 19) and seek to enjoin such interference. The county welfare boards align themselves with the unions in opposition to the State's contention that the Commissioner of Institutions and Agencies has exclusive power under N.J.S.A. 44:7-6, the Federal Social Security Act, and federal regulations to promulgate a standard compensation plan governing the salaries to be paid welfare board employees. The County Welfare Directors Association of New Jersey has intervened as amicus curiae and filed a brief in support of the position taken by the unions and the welfare boards.
The arguments advanced by the unions and the welfare boards are syllogistic in form: public employees are guaranteed the constitutional right to organize and present their grievances through representatives of their own choosing. Under the terms of the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, N.J.S.A. 34:13A-1 et seq., adopted to implement this constitutional guarantee, when an agreement as to the terms and conditions of employment is reached it shall be embodied in writing and signed by the authorized representative of the public employer and the employee representative,
N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.3. The statute defines "public employer" to include any political subdivision of the State or any authority, commission or board, or any branch or agency of the public service, N.J.S.A. 34:13A-3(c). Since county welfare boards are corporate entities (see N.J.S.A. 44:7-7) and are authorized to appoint necessary employees (see N.J.S.A. 44:7-9) and to determine their compensation within the limits of the funds made available for that purpose, they as public employers are required to bargain collectively with employees' representatives and to enter into agreements implementing such bargaining.
The unions and the county welfare boards also point to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 44:1-27 and N.J.S.A. 44:4-35, which authorize the county welfare board to fix the salaries of officers and employees within the limitations of the appropriation made by the board of chosen freeholders. As a consequence, they argue, the Division has no right to control the rate of pay of welfare board employees and that no such right is conferred upon it by federal provisions or state statute or regulations.
The State's position is that it must have exclusive power to enforce standard salary schedules for welfare board employees by reason of its participation in the various federal welfare assistance programs. It insists that it has the power to prescribe standards with respect to salaries of welfare boards without regard to any rights of collective bargaining created by the Public Employer-Employee Relations Act. The power to prescribe salary standards stems from the statutes and regulations adopted to implement state welfare programs. The State relies upon N.J.S.A. 44:7-6 as specifically supporting its claim of statutory authority to adopt regulations designed to insure that federal aid standards are adhered to.
The initial concern, then, is whether the Legislature, in order to implement the federal assistance programs, either expressly or by necessary implication, granted authorization to the Department of Institutions and Agencies
to regulate the salaries of county welfare board employees, that authorization antedating the adoption of the Employer-Employee Relations Act.
Resolution of this question of statutory interpretation necessarily entails a brief review of pertinent federal statutes and regulations. The several federal welfare assistance programs here under review are extensions of and established pursuant to the Federal Social Security Act. See Old Age Assistance Program (42 U.S.C.A. § 301 et seq.), Aid to Families with Dependent Children (42 U.S.C.A. § 601 et seq.), Aid to the ...