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Detectives v. Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders

Decided: August 9, 1974.


Handler, Meanor and Kole. The opinion of the court was delivered by Kole, J.s.c., Temporarily Assigned.


This appeal stems from a December 14, 1971 directive by the Chief Justice that all trial courts of this State, other than municipal courts, shall sit from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., effective January 31, 1972. Pursuant thereto, on December 22, 1971 the Essex County Prosecutor ordered his personnel to work from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., constituting a one-half hour earlier starting time and an additional one-half hour a day, effective January 31, 1972. Similarly, on January 5, 1972 the assignment judge for Hudson County directed "all employees serving the Judiciary" to report to work at 8:30 a.m. rather than the usual 9:00 a.m. Both Essex and Hudson Counties refused to compensate the affected employees for the extension of the basic work day.

Appeals were taken to the Civil Service Commission by the Prosecutor's Detectives and Investigators Association of Essex County (hereafter "Detectives"), the clerical and stenographic employees of the Essex County Prosecutor's

office (hereafter "Clerical Employees"), and the Superior and County Clerks Association of Hudson County (hereafter "Hudson Court Clerks"). Their cases were heard and decided together by the Commission. The latter decided that the extended work day without additional compensation constituted a reduction without good cause, in violation of the Civil Service Law and, specifically, N.J.S.A. 11:22-38. Accordingly, the Commission directed the respective counties to compensate the affected employees on a prorated basis.

The counties appealed to this court and an order for consolidation was subsequently entered.*fn1 We reverse.

N.J.S.A. 11:22-38 reads in part:

No officer, clerk or employee holding a position in the competitive class shall be removed, discharged, fined or reduced * * * until he has been furnished with a written statement of the reasons for such action by the appointing authority and been allowed a reasonable time to make answer thereto. A copy of the statement or reasons therefor and the answer thereto, with the action of the appointing authority, shall forthwith be furnished to the commission and entered upon its records, and shall also be entered on the records of the department or office in which the removed, discharged, fined or reduced person was or is employed. The officer, clerk or employee shall at once be notified, in writing, of the action taken on such charges and answer. The action of the appointing authority ordering or directing such removal, discharge, fine or reduction shall not take effect until approved by order of the commission * * *.

The issue before us requires the resolution of two somewhat interrelated questions: (1) Did the directives of the

Essex County Prosecutor and the Hudson County assignment judge, made for the purpose of implementing the Chief Justice's order, together with the refusal on the part of the respective boards of freeholders to grant additional compensation, constitute reductions without good cause under the statute? (2) What effect does the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, N.J.S.A. 34:13A-1 et seq., have on the propriety of the Commission's determination?

It is important to note the difference in circumstances of the three groups of employees at the time the respective directives went into operation. The Detectives Association had already been certified by the Public Employment Relations Commission as the exclusive representative for all county detectives and investigators of Essex (N.J.S.A. 34:13A-1 et seq.). In 1970 it entered into a written agreement with the County of Essex covering various terms and conditions of employment and providing that whenever there should appear to be a conflict between the terms of the agreement and the Civil Service Law, the terms of the latter shall prevail. The agreement further stated that no employee shall make any claim for overtime payments. Salary ranges were agreed upon; however, hours were not mentioned. By its terms the agreement was to terminate on March 31, 1972 or when a new agreement would be executed, whichever event would last occur.

The second category of employees, the Hudson Court Clerks, is also an association. However, it was not recognized as the negotiating representative with Hudson County until August 4, 1972, approximately six months after the effective date of the directive. Prior thereto the Superior and County Court Clerks of Hudson County had apparently not formed an employee organization for the purposes of collective negotiation. The agreement entered into on September 6, 1973 between the Hudson Court Clerks Association and Hudson County in effect recognizes the work day as beginning at 8:30 a.m. in order to enable the court to convene at 9:00 a.m. and states that there should be no

overtime before 4:00 p.m. As mentioned before, the somewhat substantial salary increases incorporated in that agreement were apparently intended by the parties to compensate the employees not only for the employment to occur pursuant to that agreement, but also for the extra one-half hour for the period involved in this appeal -- namely, January 31, 1972 to January 1, 1973, the effective date of the contract.

The third group of employees instituted a class action on their own behalf. They are classified clerical and stenographic employees of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office and are not ...

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