In April 2018, two months before the U.S. Supreme Court released its Janus v. AFSCME ruling that said mandatory union dues were a violation of the First Amendment, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a preemptive bill called the “Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act (WDEA).” This new law, according to NJ School Boards Association’s Mike Vrancik, “intrudes into matters that are currently, and should remain, subjects of collective negotiations” by “essentially grant[ing] unions unfettered access to public employees on school district property.” In effect, WDEA eviscerates the Janus ruling by giving the New Jersey Education Association the “exclusive right” to meet with newly-hired employees in order to pressure them into joining their local bargaining unit, requires school districts to send personal contact information for all new and existing employees, and limits a teacher’s right to leave NJEA.
But that’s not all: Mike Lilley of the Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey just revealed that another bill, the “Responsible Collective Negotiations Act” (RCNA) was passed in the State Legislature and signed by Gov. Murphy on January 10, 2022, the very last day of the lame duck session when no one’s paying attention. “There were no news stories covering its passage,” he writes in his new report. “Two main beneficiaries of the new law, New Jersey’s two largest public-sector unions, the NJEA and CWA, did not issue press releases. The bill passed through the lame-duck session quickly and silently with no hearings or debate.”
Why the secrecy?
Just follow the money.
That’s how Lilley untangles the clandestine legislative process that New Jersey Policy Perspective’s Jon Shure says “inevitably favors the privileged few and shuts out those who don’t have lobbyists.”
NJEA has lobbyists galore. Individual teachers who’d rather not pay $1,200 in dues every year? Not so much. From Lilley’s new report:
New Jersey’s most deep-pocketed special interest, the NJEA, certainly appears to be one of the “privileged few,” per Shure. It has a large team of professional lobbyists armed with $140 million of teachers’ dues to exploit backroom, lame-duck politics: Every single one of the 25 legislators who sponsored or cosponsored the RCNA has been supported by NJEA money. Six of the sponsors and cosponsors are among the top-ten recipients of NJEA monetary support from 2011-2020. Lead-sponsor then-Senate President Steve Sweeney saw the Super PAC that supported his election in 2021 – American Democratic Majority – get $1.3 million from the NJEA’s Super PAC, Garden State Forward. And, of course, Governor Murphy has benefited from $15.5 million of the NJEA’s largesse.
What does RCNA do? It expands the reach of WDEA by increasing NJEA’s power. Now districts must hand over job descriptions, work locations, work emails, and work phone numbers for all teachers who are not NJEA members. If any teacher tries to opt out of the union, the district must notify NJEA within five days. This directly benefits NJEA, Lilley explains, because it gives union leaders “privileged access to non-members, enhancing its ability to ‘persuade’ these teachers to join the NJEA. As with the WDEA, the school district acts as the NJEA’s business administrator on the taxpayer’s dime.” It also solves one of WDEA’s problems: the original 10-day per year opt-out window is most likely unconstitutional under Janus, opening up NJEA to lawsuits by teachers who don’t want to be members. So RCNA fixes that by changing the “legal regime” for teachers who want to opt out and forcing them to pay dues for as long as a year.
The enactment of RCNA, Lilley says, represents New Jersey politics at its worst” with “powerful, taxpayer-funded special interests with millions to spend on professional lobbyists” have “once again exerted their dominance over New Jersey’s political system.” In this case, the legislation passed “in the least transparent way: behind closed doors, with no public hearings or debate.”
The New Jersey public – the people the government is supposed to serve – was shut out of the process and kept in the dark. Who spoke up for the ordinary teachers who must live under this regime, especially those who are not members of the NJEA? Who spoke up for the school districts that will be saddled with yet more administrative burdens on behalf of the NJEA? Who spoke up for the taxpayers who fund the school districts and a government that operates for the benefit of special interests?
No one. .