The Press of Atlantic City reports that Senate President Steve Sweeney is sponsoring a bill that would broaden public employee bargaining rights. Both the NJ Association of Counties and League of Municipalities oppose the bill because it would expand collective bargaining to issues that had previously been non-negotiable, such as personnel transfers and assignments.
Proponents say the bill is “permissive,” meaning that management can decline to negotiate a given issue, but opponents say that the union could then file a grievance, which would bring pressure on management over issues that were previously non-negotiable. Counties and municipalities also claim that this would limit their flexibility in responding to crises like the pandemic.
John Donnadio, Executive Director of the Association of Counties, questioned why Sweeney would support such a move. So does Sunlight, although we note that Sweeney expanded teachers unions’ power over teachers and school districts with the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act. The WDEA effectively replaced agency fees as coercion to force teachers to join the union, expanded the unions’ ability to use school resources for union business, and limited management’s ability to inform teachers of their First Amendment rights. One might speculate that Sweeney is smoothing his path to a gubernatorial run in 2025.
The AFL-CIO said it best: “The bill … would strengthen public employees unions’ position in collective bargaining …” This of course has strong implications for property taxes. Sitting on the other side of the bargaining table from the union are elected officials who are representing the interests of property taxpayers. For every gain for the public employee unions there is likely an increase in costs and therefore an increase in property taxes.
The public unions are not the only ones who would benefit. Save Jersey reports that Republican Assemblyman Brian Bergen pointed out that there are 52 Democrats in the legislature, of which 23 are public employees, 4 are professional legislators and 3 receive public pensions. As Bergen notes, that’s 31 Democrat legislators who “live off the public dime.” This is the sort of conflict of interest that erodes the public’s trust in government and puts the new bill in an even more disturbing light.
New Jersey already has the highest property taxes in the nation. Expanding union bargaining powers across the state will inexorably lead to higher costs and higher property taxes over time, with all the baleful consequences for NJ’s high cost of living, its economy and its outmigration problem. The politically powerful public employee unions will benefit, as will the politicians they support and count as members. But property taxpayers and ultimately the state economy will lose.
Once again, our elected leaders are standing with the special interests, not the citizens who elected them.