Mandatory Vaccination Not Negotiable In New Jersey

Written on 04/16/2022
Will Aitchison

The Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association filed an unfair practice charge against the Township of Ma­plewood, New Jersey, alleging that the City failed to bargain over the implementation of a policy mandating COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment, dispensing with a testing option. Several Association members submitted requests for exemptions based on their religious beliefs. The requests sought the accommodation of weekly COVID testing, and the wearing of face coverings when social distancing wasn’t possible. The Township granted the exemption requests but determined that the accommodations sought constituted an “undue hardship.”

An administrative law judge acting as a designee for New Jersey’s Public Employment Relations Commission ordered the dismissal of the ULP charge, finding that New Jersey law was settled by an opinion from a state appeals court. The ALJ wrote: “If an item is not mandated by statute or regulation but is within the general discretionary powers of a public employer, the next step is to determine whether it is a term and condition of employment as we have defined the phrase. An item that intimately and directly affects the work and welfare of police and firefighters, like any other public employees, and on which negotiated agreement would not significantly interfere with the exercise of inherent or express management prerogatives is mandatorily negotiable.

“In a recently published decision, In re City of Newark, 48 NJPER 32, (App. Div. 2021), the Appellate Divi­sion held that the City of Newark has a managerial prerogative to implement a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for its employees, simultaneously eschewing any duty to negotiate procedures for that implementation that would interfere with the prerogative, noting that any delay in implementation undercuts the effectiveness of the mandate. The Court also held that ‘in a COVID-19 pandemic, the impacts of the City’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate on City employees are non-negotiable.’

“The City has a well-recognized right to hire or direct its workforce. That right, coupled with the clear rationale and state public policy to combat health threats posed by COVID-19, supports the City’s authority to implement a vaccination mandate.

“The same may be said of the As­sociation’s allegation that the Township refused to negotiate specified ‘impacts’ of the vaccination mandate. Not only did the Court disavow any negotiable impact of the City of Newark’s vacci­nation mandate, but it also emphasized that public servants may be required to act for the public good, particularly those who are unvaccinated, who pose a risk to coworkers and City residents.”

Township of Maplewood, 2021 WL 6841074 (N.J. PERC 2021).

The post Mandatory Vaccination Not Negotiable In New Jersey appeared first on Labor Relations Information System.