Jersey City teachers cannot be paid by the public school district to do full-time union work, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division ruled this morning.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Mindful of the principles of statutory construction, we conclude that N.J.S.A. 18A:30-7 does not empower the Board in this case to continue to pay the salaries and benefits of the president of the JCEA and his or her designee, while they devote their entire work-time to the business and affairs of the union,” Appellate Court Judges Jose L. Fuentes, Francis J. Vernoia and Scott J. Moynihan ruled today.
The ruling further indicates that the state law in question is clear that “two teachers [who] act exclusively as labor leaders” cannot be paid in public funds, despite previous community bargaining agreements negotiated between the Jersey City Education Association and the BOE.
The court also says that the union president and his designee would not be able to be paid through sick or sabbatical leave, or a leave of absence, since they are still going to work on a regular basis.
The initial lawsuit was filed by members of conservative watchdog group Goldwater Institute on January 4th, 2017, alleging that “release time” – allowing two Jersey City teachers (the union president and his or her designee) to dedicate their work hours to union activities – is illegal and constitutional.
Also known as “association rights,” the appellate court notes that these guidelines have previously required the BOE to provide the JCEA president “adequate office and parking facilities.”
“We thus hold Section 7-2.3 of the CBA covering the period from September 1, 2013 to August 31, 2017, is against public policy and unenforceable,” the appellate court concludes, reversing a previous superior court decision that ruled in the JCEA’s favor.
In the initial lawsuit, it was stated that taxpayers allegedly paid $1.2 million in salary and benefits over the past five years to the two JCEA officials being paid through release time.
According to public records, JCEA President Ron Greco earned a salary of $107,980 last year as a crisis intervention teacher, while JCEA Second Vice President Tina Thorp was paid $110,380 during the 2018-2019 scholastic year as an elementary school teacher.
Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas questioned the long-term benefits of the ruling, noting that the decision force the district to hire more human resources personnel.
“We are intrigued by the ruling which only targets teacher’s unions which constitutes the single largest group of public employees while allowing other non-school staff public employee unions to continue the current release arrangement paid for by tax dollars,” he said.
“The plaintiff is a Republican right wing think tank which has been leading a crusade against teacher’s unions and public school children and public sector employees across the nation.”
Sources close to the JCEA said that the union plans to fight the appellate court decision at this time.
Greco did not immediately return an inquiry seeking comment on Wednesday.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas.