As reported by, New Jersey’s public labor unions leaders say they are intently watching a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could strike down compulsory membership dues and threaten how they are funded.  The outcome is of major consequence in the Garden State and about 20 other states where public workers are required to join their union or participate in a so-called fair-share arrangement, where they pay only the portion of annual dues that supports the union’s non-partisan activities, like contract negotiations.  New Jersey has about 344,000 public union members.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a group of teachers argue the arrangement violates their First Amendment rights to free speech.  A ruling in their favor would overrule a nearly 40-year old Supreme Court decision that allowed these fair-share, agency fee arrangements so all employees pay for the benefits they receive from collective bargaining.  Oral arguments will be held today in Washington.

“All eyes will be on the Supreme Court this spring, when we learn if the conservative-packed court will try to cripple public sector collective bargaining by ruling that non-members will not have to make a contribution toward the cost of their representation, thus forcing union members to unfairly pay the cost of free riders,” said Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America.  “But however the decision comes out, we will do what we always do: fight for the rights of all workers on the job and for the critically important services that our members provide.”

Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said the benefits of membership, such as legal protection, give him confidence a ruling against mandatory membership dues wouldn’t devastate the organization.  He noted that if unions lose, they’ll have to market themselves to potential members.  “A lot of members that aren’t active in unions don’t see what their unions are doing,” he said, or “they may not all be in love with their unions, but they need to understand their benefits and compensation are very tied to what the union does.  No matter what union you’re in, you’re deriving some benefits from it.”

In New Jersey, fair-share representation fees for non-members cannot exceed 85 percent of the full-freight membership fee.  In 2012, just 2,041 employees opted for the New Jersey Education Association’s representation arrangement, while the public union, the state’s largest, had about 195,000 members.  Nonmembers paid 81.8 percent of the NJEA dues that year.

“We believe that it’s just a fundamental principle of fairness.  You should pay the cost of the representation you receive,” NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said.  “We maintain, and public section unions maintain, that you should not get those benefits without paying for the portion of the union dues that go for paying for those benefits.”

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Photo of Donald C. Barbati Donald C. Barbati

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues…

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues litigated before the courts and administrative tribunals throughout the State of New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Barbati also routinely represents individuals in various types of public pension appeals, real estate transactions, and general litigation matters. He is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog, a free legal publication designed to keep New Jersey public safety officers up-to-date and informed about legal issues pertinent to their profession. During his years of practice, Mr. Barbati has established a reputation for achieving favorable results for his clients in a cost-efficient manner.

Mr. Barbati has also handled numerous novel legal issues while representing New Jersey Public Safety Officers. Most notably, he served as lead counsel for the Appellants in the published case In re Rodriguez, 423 N.J. Super. 440 (App. Div. 2011). In that case, Mr. Barbati successfully argued on behalf of the Appellants, thereby overturning the Attorney General’s denial of counsel to two prison guards in a civil rights suit arising from an inmate assault. In the process, the Court clarified the standard to be utilized by the Attorney General in assessing whether a public employee is entitled to legal representation and mandated that reliance must be placed on up-to-date information.

Prior to becoming a practicing attorney, Mr. Barbati served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Linda R. Feinberg, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer Vicinage. During his clerkship Mr. Barbati handled numerous complex and novel substantive and procedural issues arising from complaints in lieu of prerogative writs, orders to show cause, and motion practice. These include appeals from decisions by planning and zoning boards and local government bodies, bidding challenges under the Local Public Contract Law, Open Public Records Act requests, the taking of private property under the eminent domain statute, and election law disputes. In addition, Mr. Barbati, as a certified mediator, mediated many small claims disputes in the Special Civil Part.

Mr. Barbati received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Upon graduating, Mr. Barbati attended Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2007, he received his juris doctorate, magna cum laude, graduating in the top five percent of his class. During law school, Mr. Barbati interned for the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, assisting on various constitutional, employment, and Third Circuit Court of Appeals litigation, including numerous civil rights, social security, and immigration cases.