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March 2016 #CWA1037 Legal Round-Up

legalAs always, CWA leaves no stone unturned when it comes to fighting for our members. To this end, CWA has joined other public sector unions to take our issues to the courts. We were also anxiously awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding Friedrichs vs. the American Federation of Teachers. Over the last few weeks there have been decisions made, court dates scheduled and a dramatic shift in the make-up of the U.S. Supreme Court.

No doubt, you’ve already heard that ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed, leaving a seat empty on the highest court of the land, and shifting the balance of power from 5-to-4 to an even split between conservatives and liberals. For public workers and our unions, this means that the Supreme Court will – by vote or by default – uphold the lower court’s decision that public sector unions can continue to collect agency fees from non-members in order to fund our mandates to represent public sector workers in contract negotiations and contract enforcement.

On our efforts to bring the issue of pension funding to the U.S. Supreme Court, we learned that our case will not be heard. While this news was unfortunate, it was not unexpected. In fact, our efforts to move the pension funding ballot initiative this November was in expectation that the Supreme Court would either not hear our case or not rule in our favor. Again, we are leaving no stone unturned and this was an important step we believed we must take in our all-sided effort to ensure funding for our pension.

The New Jersey Supreme Court heard oral arguments on March 14th about the State’s decision to freeze cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for public worker retirees. The decision by the State was part of a so-called cost-saving measure that not only froze COLAs, but also raised the retirement age and required public workers to pay more for our benefits. CWA and the other plaintiffs in this case won the earlier round of arguments at the Appellate Court, which the State then appealed to the N.J. Supreme Court. We will keep you posted on this case as it moves forward, but we believe we have strong legal arguments to restore the COLAs.

Lastly, public workers won an important victory last week when the appeals court ruled that the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) overstepped its authority when it reversed over 40 years of labor relations policy when management stopped paying automatic increments after the expiration of a contract.  In the combined cases of Atlantic County and Bridgewater, the court decided that State workers are entitled to receive our increments. We expect that the ruling will be appealed to the NJ Supreme Court, but an appeal needs to filed by the other side within 20 days. We will keep you posted on Christie’s petition to appeal the decision and on the status of back pay owed to State workers. As we said last year, Chris Christie does not negotiate in good faith with public workers and we do not believe that we should negotiate with the Governor at this time. Aside from the fact that he is never in New Jersey, his animosity towards public workers means he will do everything he can to take away everything we’ve fought for over the last three decades.