Commission Tightens Specificity Requirements for Issuing Unfair Practice Complaints

By Ira W. Mintz, Esq.

Township of Edison and International Association of Firefighters, Local 1197

In P.E.R.C. No. 2013-84, the Commission denied the appeal of a decision of the Director of Unfair Practices that had refused to issue a complaint based on an unfair practice charge.  N.J.A.C. 19:14-1.3 requires that an unfair practice charge contain a “clear and concise statement of the facts constituting the alleged unfair practice.”  If the allegations in the charge “may constitute unfair practices,” the Director shall issue a complaint.  N.J.A.C. 19:14-2.1(a).  In this case, the union alleged that the employer instituted a new sick leave policy, including home visits, because of the firefighters’ membership in and activities on behalf of Local 1197.  In particular, Local 1197 alleged that it traditionally engaged in the aggressive defense of its membership in both the collective negotiations and political arenas; its President was quoted extensively in the press as opposing the Township’s cuts in fire department staffing levels; and the interim Business Administrator and Assistant to the Mayor had criticized the union and its leadership since their opposition to his candidacy for Township mayor.  Rather than issue a complaint and place the burden on the union to prove its allegations at hearing, the Director raised the initial bar and found that the allegations were not specific enough to support the issuance of a complaint.  Although the Commission’s rules require simply that an unfair practice charge contain a “concise statement of the facts constituting the alleged unfair practice,” the Commission required Local 1197 to support its allegations with detailed facts.  For example, the Commission deemed insufficient the allegation about Local 1197’s President’s statements to the press because it did not include quotations, media sources, or dates.

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