The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division has issued a decision in a case involving the Robbinsville Township Board of Education which provides important clarification of the recent New Jersey Supreme Court Borough of Keyport v. Local 68 case. The court found that the Robbinsville district’s decision to temporarily furlough teachers was a managerial prerogative that did not require negotiations with the union.

In Keyport, the court decided that furloughs are nonnegotiable management prerogatives similar to permanent layoffs or subcontracting. The municipalities in the Keyport case were civil service jurisdictions. At the time of the Keyport furloughs there was a temporary, and since repealed, Civil Service Commission regulation allowing civil service jurisdictions to implement temporary layoffs or furloughs on an intermittent basis.

Board Furloughed Employees for Three Days

Unlike the Keyport municipalities, the Robbinsville Township Board of Education is not a civil-service jurisdiction. In 2010-2011, in the midst of the economic downturn, the district’s state aid and local funding were cut. The board was in the middle of the 2008-2011 collective negotiations contract with its teachers. After failed attempts to open negotiations with the Association, the board determined that permanent layoffs would only cause more irreparable harm to the district’s educational programs and students and would simply add to the district’s budget crisis, not resolve it. Instead, it instituted three furlough days with a proportional reduction of compensation to reflect the reduction in the number of workdays.

The furlough days were professional development days, not  instructional days.

In response, the district’s education association filed unfair labor practice charges with the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC). PERC determined that the decision to furlough was a managerial prerogative, not subject to negotiations and dismissed the unfair practice charge. The unions appealed the Superior Court Appellate Division.

The court applied its long-standing three-prong negotiability test. That test provides that for a matter to be subject to negotiations, it must intimately and directly affect the work and welfare of the public employees; must not be preempted by statute or regulation; and must not significantly interfere with the determination of public policy. All parts of this test must be met for a matter to be deemed mandatorily negotiable.

The court held the first two prongs of the negotiability test were met. Its non-negotiability decision hinged on the third prong; whether requiring negotiations over furloughs would interfere with public policy.

The court noted that the board sought to balance the interests of its employees with the need to maintain reasonable educational services before implementing the furloughs. And the furloughs took place during an economic downturn and after a reduction in state and local government funding.

The court found that the board was not required to negotiate for instituting the furloughs.

In conclusion the court quoted a broad recognition of managerial prerogative from Keyport: “When a layoff plan has been prepared to accommodate policy determinations about the efficient delivery of services when economy is a factor, the public management’s right to reduce its workforce – by a layoff or restructuring of the number and type of positions, full or part-time – must be treated as a management prerogative.”

The union may appeal this decision. Boards of education considering furloughs, temporary layoffs, or reduction in hours of its employees should consult their labor attorney.

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