On appeal from the Governor's Office of Employee Relations.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lisa, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa, Baxter and Alvarez.
This appeal questions whether the police and firefighters paid convention leave statute, N.J.S.A. 11A:6-10,*fn1 is unconstitutional as special legislation or because it violates the equal protection rights of members of employee organizations not affiliated with the unions designated in the statute. The statute applies only to members of employee organizations affiliated with the State's two largest police unions and two largest firefighter unions. The challenge in this case was brought by two independent police unions. Accordingly, the relevant factual information in the record and our analysis are limited to the statutory provisions pertaining to police unions. We hold that the statute is not constitutionally infirm.
The statute at the center of this controversy provides:
A leave of absence with pay shall be given to employees who are duly authorized representatives of an employee organization defined as a "representative" in subsection e. of section 3 of P.L. 1941, c. 100 (C. 34:13A-3) and affiliated with the New Jersey Policemen's Benevolent Association, Inc., Fraternal Order of Police, Firemen's Mutual Benevolent Association, Inc. or the Professional Fire Fighters Association of New Jersey to attend any State or national convention of the organization, provided, however, that no more than 10 percent of the employee organization's membership shall be permitted such a leave of absence with pay, except that no less than two and no more than 10 authorized representatives shall be entitled to such leave, unless more than 10 authorized representatives are permitted such a leave of absence pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the employer and the representatives of the employee organization, and for employee organizations with more than 5,000 members, a maximum of 25 authorized representatives shall be entitled to such leave. The leave of absence shall be for a period inclusive of the duration of the convention with a reasonable time allowed for travel to and from the convention, provided that such leave shall be for no more than seven days.
A certificate of attendance at the convention shall, upon request, be submitted by the representative so attending. [N.J.S.A. 11A:6-10 (emphasis added).]
The two unions that brought this action were the New Jersey Law Enforcement Supervisors Association (NJLESA) and the New Jersey Law Enforcement Commanding Officers Association (NJLECOA). They initiated the action in the Law Division, alleging that N.J.S.A. 11A:6-10 violates the New Jersey Constitution's ban on special legislation, N.J. Const. art. IV, § 7, ¶ 7, as well as violating the equal protection rights of their members. They sought a declaration that the statute and regulation were unconstitutional, or alternatively an order directing the State to award the union officials paid convention leave. The State's motion to transfer the matter to this court was granted. See R. 1:13-4(a); R. 2:2-3(a)(2). NJLESA withdrew its appeal on the eve of oral argument in this court,*fn2 leaving NJLECOA as the only appellant. However, to the extent necessary to set forth the relevant facts, we include NJLESA in our discussion.
NJLECOA is the sole and exclusive representative of law enforcement officers employed by the State of New Jersey holding the rank of captain or its equivalent.*fn3 NJLESA is the sole and exclusive representative of law enforcement officers employed by the State of New Jersey holding the rank of sergeant or its equivalent in certain units.*fn4 Since 2008, both unions have been independent, although before that time they had been affiliated with either the New Jersey Policemen's Benevolent Association, Inc. (PBA) or the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
The PBA represents about 32,000 law enforcement officers and the FOP represents more than 14,000 law enforcement officers throughout New Jersey, at all levels of government, state, county, and municipal. The PBA serves as the collective negotiations representative for more than 300 law enforcement units, and the FOP serves as the collective negotiations representative for 133 units. Only twenty-two law enforcement units are represented by independent labor organizations for collective negotiations purposes, including NJLECOA and NJLESA. Included within these numbers, the State of New Jersey employs about 8300 law enforcement officers; of those, about 7500 are represented by the PBA and FOP, and the remaining 800 are the sergeants and captains represented by NJLECOA and NJLESA.
On July 15, 2008, the presidents of NJLECOA and NJLESA sent a joint letter to the New Jersey State Office of Employee Relations (OER).*fn5 They requested paid leave for sixteen officers and trustees of the two unions (seven from NJLECOA, and nine from NJLESA) to attend as delegates a state convention jointly hosted by the two unions in Atlantic City from Monday, August 25 to Friday, August 29, 2008, plus reasonable travel time. By letter of July 29, 2008, OER denied the request, noting that the unions were not affiliated with any of the organizations specified in N.J.S.A. 11A:6-10, or its corresponding regulation, N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.13. The two unions then brought this action.
NJLECOA argues that N.J.S.A. 11A:6-10 is "special legislation" in violation of article IV, section 7, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution, which provides that, "[n]o general law shall embrace any provision of a private, special or local character." It argues that the statute constitutes special legislation because its limitation to the four named unions "is without a meaningful and rational reason, and, thus, arbitrarily exclusive." For the same ...