Court Upholds Paid Union Leave Statute That Benefits Only Some Public Safety Unions

A New Jersey statute provides for paid leave for public safety officers to attend union conventions, but only if they are “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.” The four organizations are the largest public safety unions in the state.

Two smaller police unions brought a lawsuit challenging the validity of the statute under the New Jersey Constitution’s prohibition of “special legislation.” The constitutional clause in question provides that “no general law shall embrace any provision of a private, special or local character.”

A New Jersey state court rejected the lawsuit. The Court noted that a three-prong test is used to evaluate whether a law constitutes special legislation. Under the test, a court must determine: (1) The purpose and object of the enactment; (2) whether it excludes some who should be included; and (3) whether, as applied, the resulting classification rests upon any rational or reasonable basis relevant to the purpose of the statute. The Court found that the union leave statute met the requirements of the test. As to purpose of the statute, the Court found that the statute was designed “to provide a forum for relevant training and education to law enforcement officers, through their authorized representatives, as a supplement to that provided by their public employers.”

As to whether the statute “excluded some who should be included,” the Court held the “vast difference in size and diversity” between the four labor organizations listed in the statute and the unions bringing the lawsuit supported the differential treatment: “The PBA and FOP represent about 46,000 members statewide serving at all three levels of government, compared to perhaps a few hundred members in a local union, all of whom serve at one level of government.”

The Court also found the necessary “rational basis” needed to meet the third prong of the test. The Court held that “the chosen classification would provide an efficient and cost-effective means by which to achieve its educational purpose. Unquestionably, that purpose serves a legitimate state interest. The PBA and FOP represent by far the greatest number and widest range of law enforcement interests at all levels of government. Their conventions are large and educational programs available at PBA and FOP conventions, in contrast with smaller organizations, would cater to the widest set of law enforcement interests, both inside and outside government, and attract the most diverse resources to deliver those programs.

“It stands to reason that a large convention would have the capacity and likelihood of providing broader and better educational programs than a small gathering such as the 16-member, five-day joint convention of the police unions bringing the lawsuit. The Legislature could have reasonably determined that the public cost of paid leave for attendance at the former is justified, but not at the latter. The legislative drawing of a dividing line to conserve fiscal resources serves a valid state interest.”

New Jersey Law Enforcement Sup’rs Ass’n v. State, 2010 WL 2471023 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2010).

This article appears in the September 2010 issue