By its verified complaint plaintiff claims to be the representative "designated and selected" for all the police officers of the Town of Montclair for purposes of collective negotiation and seeks an order compelling defendant employer to negotiate in good faith as to terms and conditions of employment. The threshold question is whether plaintiff's disputed status as negotiating representative may be resolved by the court without a prior exhaustion of administrative remedies.
The application is made under the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, N.J.S.A. 34:13A-1 et seq. Provision for ascertaining negotiating representatives is made in section 5.3 thereof in the following language:
Representatives designated or selected by public employees for the purposes of collective negotiation by the majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for such purposes or by the majority of the employees voting in an election conducted by the commission as authorized
by this act shall be the exclusive representatives for collective negotiation concerning the terms and conditions of employment of the employees in such suit.
It is apparent that two alternatives are envisioned. The first merely requires that the exclusive representatives shall be whichever are "designated or selected" by the public employees. The other is more specific, leaving their selection to the outcome of an election conducted by the Commission Public Employee Relations. Plaintiff argues that since, under the first alternative, the statute is indefinite as to the mode by which the selection must be made, omitting any reference to Commission participation, the Legislature intended the supervised election as the sole administrative remedy obtainable from the Commission; that resort to the administrative process is therefore necessary only where the provision for a supervised election is invoked, and unnecessary where the exclusive representative has been, or will be, otherwise designated or selected. In this instance plaintiff maintains that no election is required; that its status as negotiating representative was achieved through organization membership by a majority of the employees and voluntary recognition thereof by the defendant within the sense of federal cases decided under the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq. Both bases for the claim are denied by defendant, and it is this dispute which the court is asked to resolve.
The Legislature has declared as the public policy of this State that the best interests of the people are served by the voluntary mediation of public employer-employee disputes under the guidance and supervision of "a governmental agency." N.J.S.A. 34:13A-2. Section 5.1(a) of the act establishes a Division of Public Employment Relations, having as its exclusive concern matters of public employment related, among other things, to determining "negotiating units, elections, certifications * * *" (Emphasis supplied). Within the Division was created the New Jersey Public Employee
Relations Commission, This body is charged with the duty of regulating and making policy for employer-employee relations in public employment, "including enforcement of statutory provisions concerning representative elections and related matters." (Emphasis supplied). N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.2. More specifically, the Commission is empowered
Other paragraphs of the foregoing section vest the Commission with ancillary powers necessary to carry out its primary obligations. Various provisions of its regulations demonstrate that the Commission intended to exercise its full authority under the act and understands that its power to resolve representation questions goes beyond the mere conduct of an election. Under N.J.A.C. 19:10-1.1 the "Representation Proceeding" is defined as
Nothing in the foregoing language suggests that the proceeding is limited to the conduct of an election.
The representation proceeding before the Commission is begun by the filing of a petition for certification by any public employee, group of public employees, or any individual or employee organization claiming to be the majority representative of public employees in an appropriate unit. N.J.A.C. 19:11-1.1. "Certification" is defined in N.J.A.C. 19:10-1.1 as "the designation by the Executive Director or the Commission of the employee organization as the majority ...