On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division.
For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None. Handler, Justice, concurring.
In this matter it is contended that the Court is compelled, by virtue of its decision in Passaic County Probation Officers' Association v. County of Passaic, 73 N.J. 247, 374 A.2d 449 (1977), to include in collective negotiations with judicial employee organizations the issue of agency fees in accordance with N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.5(a). The statutory provision requires the public employer, here the judiciary, if requested by the employees' union, to negotiate in good faith whether the substantial equivalent of union dues -- "agency fees" -- shall be paid, through payroll deductions, by non-union members who form part of the negotiating unit. The judiciary thus far has refused to negotiate on this issue. Additionally, it is contended that this difference in treatment -- judiciary employees being the only public employees whose labor organizations are unable to negotiate that issue -- violates the New Jersey constitutional requirements of equal protection and substantive due process. N.J. Const. of 1947 art. I, para. 1.
These claims are made with substantial force and a legitimacy that inevitably attaches to their support in legislative policy. Nevertheless, we determine that the judiciary is not compelled by the Passaic case or by the statute to negotiate this issue. Rather, pursuant to the Court's exclusive power under our Constitution over the administration of the judicial system (art. VI, § II, para. 3), we hold that the question is committed to the Court's discretionary authority, to be determined in accordance with the legitimate interests of the judiciary in sound labor relations guided by the principles previously established in case law. While the determination to withhold negotiation of this term continues, it has always been regarded as an interim determination, justified by both the rapid changes that have taken place in judicial labor relations and the uncertainties
that surround its future development. As more fully explained below, the Chief Justice, in his constitutional capacity as administrative head of the judicial branch of government, has indicated that the question is presently under consideration and that he will present it to us along with his views on completion of his review in the near future.
Given this impending administrative reconsideration of the issue, we do not decide the constitutional questions. We retain jurisdiction, however, in order to afford plaintiff CWA the opportunity, by motion made to this Court, to reassert its constitutional claims following our forthcoming administrative disposition of the case.
This action is brought by two labor unions representing judicial employees, CWA Local 1044 and Local 102, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, AFL-CIO. CWA 1044 is the only appellant (referred to sometimes as plaintiff), Local 102 not having appealed from the trial court's adverse determination. This action was preceded by another in the Federal District Court requesting similar relief but including federal constitutional claims not advanced here. It was ultimately dismissed on abstention grounds in an unreported decision, preserving to CWA 1044 (Local 102 was not a party) the right to reopen the action if dissatisfied with the outcome of State proceedings. See Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S. Ct. 1098, 87 L. Ed. 1424 (1943); Railroad Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S. Ct. 643, 85 L. Ed. 971 (1941). This lawsuit followed. No federal claims are asserted here, plaintiff CWA reserving them in the event of its return to the Federal District Court.
CWA 1044 is a Local of the Communications Workers of America organizing, among other places, in Burlington County. The Local represents substantially all the public employees of
that county, namely, the employees of the Board of Freeholders and some related agencies, as well as a substantial number of judicial employees, all in the same collective negotiating unit. The judicial employees include all employees of the probation office (except probation officers themselves, who are organized in another unit represented by the Probation Officers' Association of Burlington County), all employees of the Surrogate, all employees on the County Clerk's judicial budget, all support staff of the Special Civil Part of the Superior Court, and all administrative and other employees on the payroll of the Burlington County Superior Court.
In February of 1986, Local 1044 concluded a collective negotiating agreement with the county for the years 1986-1988 purporting to cover all the public employees in the mixed unit, including the judicial employees. It included a standard agency-fee clause requiring payment to the union by non-union members of a representation fee (up to 85% of regular union dues) in accordance with the statute. The agreement was not executed by the Assignment Judge nor, apparently, did the judiciary participate in its negotiation. The Assignment Judge thereafter advised the union that despite the collective negotiating agreement, agency fees could not be deducted from the payroll for judiciary employees. After the dismissal of the Federal District Court action challenging the Court's policy in this respect, plaintiffs commenced this action, resulting in a summary judgment in favor of the named defendants, being the members of this Court and the two Assignment Judges. The trial court based its decision on this Court's exclusive power over the administration of the court system, including the power to determine its own policies in the judicial labor relations field, despite conflicting legislative provisions. Concerning the constitutional contentions, the decision below was based on the trial court's perception of the present policy as temporary and therefore able to withstand attack on equal protection and due process grounds. Local 1044 appealed and we certified the matter directly. See Rule 2:12-2.
We deal first with the contention that the Court is compelled by its decision in Passaic County Probation Officers' Association v. County of Passaic, supra, 73 N.J. 247, 374 A.2d 449 (1977) (Passaic I) to negotiate the agency-fee issue. That case involved a directive of the judiciary, issued by a chief probation officer, changing the working hours of probation officers, previously 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., by extending them to 4:30 p.m. The change, to conform those hours to the regularly scheduled court hours of trial judges, was effected without negotiations with the probation officers. The judiciary's directive thus conflicted with the statute (N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.3) that required such a change to be negotiated with the probation officers' elected representative before it was put into effect. We held that the change was mandated by the needs of the effective administration of the courts and that the judiciary's constitutional responsibility to meet those needs took precedence over the statute. After concluding that probation officers were so integral a part of the judiciary as to bring them within the scope of our constitutional power, we made the following observation:
The conclusion is quite inescapable that the constitutional mandate given this Court to "make rules governing the administration of all courts in the State" transcends the power of the Legislature to enact statutes governing those public employees properly considered an integral part of the court system. It has, however, since 1948, been the practice of this Court, with only occasional deviation, to accept and adopt legislative arrangements that have not in any way interfered with this Court's constitutional obligation discussed above. We have every intention of continuing this practice; to do otherwise would be pointless and self-defeating. Only where we are satisfied that the proper exercise of our constitutional responsibility to superintend the administration of the judicial system requires such action would we feel compelled to exert this power in the adoption of a rule at odds with a legislative enactment. We repeat that in the absence of any action by this Court -- felt to be constitutionally compelled -- and as a matter of comity and respect for other branches of government, we accept and adopt all statutory arrangements touching or concerning the administration of any courts in the State, as well as such legislative enactments as have to do with public employees whose duties are intimately related to the judicial system. [73 N.J. at 255, 374 A.2d 449 (emphasis supplied).]
Plaintiff would read that language as somehow creating an inflexible rule of law restricting this Court's constitutional, exclusive power over the administration of the judiciary. It claims that this Court may adopt rules of administration in conflict with a statute only when it is "constitutionally compelled" to do so, thereby implying an extremely narrow scope to our power to govern the courts. We disagree. Very simply, and fairly read, that case sets forth this Court's policy that when a statute has an impact on our administration, we will follow it unless it interferes with the effective functioning of the courts. And so we have done. The occasions when we have concluded that our exclusive responsibility to administer the judicial system calls for a result different from that ordained by the Legislature are few. In this spirit of comity, we will continue to defer to the Legislature. But our obligation to give the people of this state effective administration of justice, squarely imposed on us by the constitutional grant of exclusive responsibility over the administration of the court system, cannot be diluted, as it would be, by plaintiff's restrictive interpretation of Passaic I. Rather, in each instance we must examine the terms of the legislative enactment, its importance, the extent of its interference with sound judicial administration, and the significance of the issue to the judiciary, ultimately striking a balance between the interests served by comity and those served by the administration of justice. The reams of statutory material with which we have complied overwhelm the few instances when we have gone our own way. See, e.g., Greenberg v. Kimmelman, 99 N.J. 552, 494 A.2d 294 (1985); Knight v. Margate, 86 N.J. 374, 431 A.2d 833 (1981), and cases cited therein.
Here the question relates to one term in a collective negotiating agreement. It is undoubtedly important to the unions. Presumably it is also important to the Legislature. We recognize that the statute overturned our prior ruling that compulsory agency fees for all employees in the public sector ...