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American Federation of State v. Hudson County Welfare Board

Decided: April 1, 1976.


Kentz, J.s.c.


[141 NJSuper Page 26] This controversy presents for decision an issue not heretofore addressed in any reported opinion of this State. The case deals with the powers of the newly elected County Executive form of government in Hudson County chosen by the voters of the county in November 1975 pursuant to the Optional County Charter Law (act), L. 1972, c. 154; N.J.S.A. 40:41A-1 et seq. Specifically, the issue

to be decided is whether the County of Hudson (county) has the power under the act to abolish the present structure of the Hudson County Welfare Board (board). The particular issue is before the court on cross-motions for partial summary judgment. R. 4:46-2. The case in general has more aspects to be explored, but due to the urgency of time and the important public interest involved, it was agreed by the court and counsel that the interests of all concerned would best be served by an expedited hearing and decision on this limited issue. Cf. Retz v. Saddle Brook Mayor & Council , 69 N.J. 563 (1976). The time problem arises out of the fact that the county intends to adopt its new Administrative Code (Code) on April 2, to become effective May 1, 1976, as required by N.J.S.A. 40:41A-125. Section 8.3 of the proposed Code will transform the board into the Division of Welfare, which is a unit within the proposed Department of Health and Social Services.

Plaintiffs American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, Council No. 52, and its Local 2306 (union) are the collective bargaining representatives for the employees of defendant board. There is presently in existence a valid collective bargaining agreement between the union and the board which is set to expire on December 31, 1976. Pursuant to Article X of this collective bargaining agreement, the board notified approximately 21 members of the union that they were to be promoted to certain positions. At about the same time the county, through the county counsel's office, notified the board that "no raises of any kind should be granted to any employees or any agreement to give raises entered into." Following the instructions of the county, the board refused to promote the employees who had been previously notified that such promotions were forthcoming. Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement the union filed a grievance. Apparently, the board agreed with the union as to the provision of the collective bargaining agreement and the propriety of the promotions sought, but asserted

that it was precluded from granting the promotions by reason of the county's instructions as set forth in the letter from the county counsel. The plaintiff then instituted the present action seeking an injunction restraining the county from interfering with the personnel practices of the board, an order directing the board to specifically adhere to the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, and a declaratory judgment that the county does not have the power to assimilate the Board.*fn1

Plaintiff contends that the board is legislatively mandated to operate as an autonomous body. N.J.S.A. 44:7-7. It asserts that the various provisions of Title 44 of the New Jersey Statutes are general law which require the continuation of the board as a separate entity, independent of the political control of the county, subject to statewide personnel standards prescribed by the New Jersey Department of Institutions & Agencies (I&A) and not by parochial requirements of the county. Plaintiff further states that the actions of the county are at variance with the uniform personnel standards prescribed by I&A, and this will directly result in the loss of federal welfare funds to the State.

The county,*fn2 on the other hand, firmly argues that the clear, unambiguous intent and meaning of the act is to enable the county to consolidate the existing board with other county functions in an effort to provide a more efficient, economical and preferred method of service. It is the county's position that that which the union declares to be unlawful is the exact purpose of the reforming legislation set forth in N.J.S.A. 40:41A-1 et seq. , particularly 40:41A-25, 26, 27 and 30. The county agrees that no matter what form the

administration of welfare services assumes, it must conform to the requirements, rules and regulations promulgated by I&A, including the personnel standards. N.J.S.A. 40:41A-26, 30. The county appears to have made provision for this in ยง 8.3 of the Code which provides:

Under the direction and supervision of the Director, the division [of welfare] shall have exercise and discharge all of the functions, powers and duties of a County Welfare Board, as prescribed by law. [Emphasis supplied]

N.J.S.A. 40:41A-30 outlines the general powers granted to the new forms of county government under the act. It reads in part:

The grant of powers under this act is intended to be as broad as is consistent with the Constitution of New Jersey and with general law relating to local government. The grant of powers shall be construed as liberally as possible in regard to the county's right to reorganize its own form of government, to reorganize its structure and to alter or abolish its agencies , subject to the general mandate of performing services, whether they be performed by the agency previously established or by a new agency or another department of county government. [Emphasis supplied]

"General law" is defined in N.J.S.A. 40:41A-26:

For the purposes of this act, a "general law" shall be deemed to be such law or part thereof, or heretofore ...

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