State Commission of Investigation Issues Investigative Report on Cost of Union Work

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In recent months the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) turned its investigatory lens to the issue of cost implications of union representation and on May 9 2012 issued a culminating report “Union Work Public Pay the Taxpayer Cost of Compensation and Benefits for Public-Employee Union Leave.” The SCI a statutorily created Commission to investigate abuses in the government sector examined the employment circumstances of public-sector labor union representatives and cost implications to the taxpayer in this Report. The scope of the investigation included interviews with a range of public sector employers union representatives and a review of existing contracts in a sample of more than 120 urban suburban and rural school districts 17 municipalities all 21 counties and 12 departments of state government.

Some of the key findings of the report include:

  • “Significant and questionable variations” in how time-off for union work is granted how such leave is authorized who qualifies for it who keeps track of it how it is constituted and who ultimately pays the bill;
  • While acknowledging that “in many instances costs associated with compensation and medical benefits for union officials on leave are borne by the labor organizations they represent” the Commission did find examples in which all or a portion of their salaries benefits and/or pension costs were borne by their public employer with no reimbursement by the relevant union;
  • There are cost implications to the public in some segments of the public sector for paid union leave estimated by the SCI at more than $30 million in salaries and medical benefits; and
  • There is a significant disparity in the approach to paid union leave in terms of public transparency oversight and accountability with some collective bargaining agreements clearly addressing the issue while other agreements are silent or rely on past practice or sidebar agreements.

Based upon these findings the SCI referred its findings to the NJ Department of Treasury Division of Pensions and Benefits and the NJ Public Employment Relations Commission for further consideration and potential action. The Commission also submitted the following recommendations for systemic reform:

  • Eliminate or substantially curtail taxpayer-funded union leave;
  • Establish uniform statutory rules for granting union leave;
  • Enhance public disclosure and transparency; and
  • Require individuals currently receiving full-time paid union leave to provide immediate and proper notice of this status to the appropriate state agencies including the Division of Pension and Benefits and/or the state Civil Service Commission.

NJPSA will keep you advised of any future developments.