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Unilaterally Reducing Teachers’ Hours During Economic Crisis Prohibited

By on December 13, 2016 in Labor & Employment with 0 Comments

On November 29, 2016, the New Jersey Supreme Court In the Matter of Robbinsville Township Board of Education v. Washington Township Education Association ruled that boards of education must negotiate employees’ work hours and cannot unilaterally reduce those hours even in times of economic crisis.

The collective negotiation agreement between the Robbinsville Township Board of Education (“Board”) and the Washington Township Education Association (“Association”) stated that teachers’ salaries would be based on 188 days for new teachers and 185 days for all other teachers. In 2010, a series of events caused a significant reduction in the Board’s funding. As a result, the Board requested the Association to reopen negotiations to address the changing circumstances – yet the Association declined each time. In May 2010, the Board imposed a three day furlough on the remaining teachers, reducing their work year from 185 to 182 days.

Thereafter, the Association filed an unfair practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Commission (“PERC”). PERC found in favor of the Board reasoning that the temporary furlough was a non-negotiable managerial prerogative. The Association appealed, and the Appellate Division upheld PERC’s decision.

The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed with the Board and reversed the Appellate Division. The Supreme Court explained that the Appellate Division improperly relied on Borough of Keyport v. International Union of Operating Engineers for the proposition that a public employer may impose temporary layoffs or furloughs during times of economic crisis. The Supreme Court emphasized that the public employer’s decision to impose a furlough in Keyport was authorized by an emergency regulation enacted in response to the 2008 economic crisis. In contrast, no such regulation permitted the Board in this case to unilaterally reduce the teachers’ workdays.

In sum, the Supreme Court found that even during times of economic crisis, boards of education must negotiate employees’ work hours and cannot unilaterally alter those hours.

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Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev

About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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