Welfare Board Files Complaint against New Jersey Local

The government board that runs Passaic County’s (N.J.) welfare agency has taken the unusual step of filing an unfair labor practice charge against Communications Workers of America Local 1081, demanding that its leaders apologize for injecting race into their rhetoric and stop interfering with “management rights. ” The Board of Social Services has complained that Local 1081 bosses have tried to intimidate the board by raising discrimination issues while opposing a controversial promotion.

The complaint says such tactics have been particularly tough on “a public body with many African-Americans and Latinos serving as commissioners. ” It adds that the union’s allegations “are personal insults to the heritage and consciousness of public officials who donate their time, energy, and reputation to assist the people of Passaic County.  They devalue the importance of civil rights programs and policies. They are unfair and immoral. ” Filing an unfair labor practice charge with the N.J. Public Employment Relations Comm’n is a fairly rare move, especially for management. Longtime union and board officials agreed that the board’s complaint was unprecedented. Complaints are investigated by PERC’s staff and may proceed to a formal hearing if it appears likely that state labor laws have been violated.

Local 1081 president David Weiner’s verbose, sometimes hyperbolic critiques of county government have become a staple of public meetings and newsroom fax machines, particularly following his union’s falling out with the ruling Democratic organization over last year’s sheriff race.

At issue in the board’s complaint is Weiner’s hammering of county officials over the promotion in the fall of two welfare investigators to the title of “confidential investigator,” a position that the Board of Social Services had dropped months earlier and then reintroduced. Weiner argued that the position, which entails some internal investigations and is not part of the union membership, is effectively a promotion that was handed to political favorites and not advertised as required.

In speeches to commissioners and freeholders, Weiner also pointed out that both new confidential investigators are white, while most of the investigative staff consists of minorities. “Does this inequitable choice of investigators mean that the administration of the board does not trust minorities … to investigate their co-workers in an efficient and impartial fashion? ” Weiner demanded during an October board meeting, where he also noted that his college major was black studies.  “Does this Passaic County version of the hideous Jim Crow laws of our nation’s segregationist past portend further declarations of racial prejudice?”

The board’s complaint says that half the agency’s confidential staff is African-American.  It also notes that a formal grievance that the union, which represents about 400 workers, filed over the promotions does not mention the issue of race, which came up only in union officials speeches.

“Without regard to the truth, Local 1081 leaders engaged in a campaign to defame the [board] … using taunts of ‘racism’ and ‘Jim Crow’ to attempt to intimidate board members,” the complaint says.  “The leaders of Local 1081 raised the issue of race for the exclusive purpose of gaining notoriety. ” Weiner expressed “regret” for any offense to commissioners, but added, “We will not apologize for calling things as we see them. ”  [Record (Bergen Co., N.J.) 2/7/02]