Supreme Court


As reported by, public employee unions and government officials clashed Monday in a case before the state Supreme Court that could determine whether workers across New Jersey will get pay raises.

The state’s highest court heard oral arguments over the whether “step” increases — increases in pay when workers reach annual milestones in years of service — should be granted after a contract has expired.

Atlantic County, Bridgewater Township and the Public Employment Relations Commission asked the court to reverse an appellate court ruling, which found PERC overstepped its authority when it upended a four-decades-old doctrine that says step increases outlive the term of a contract.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 34 and Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 77 charged Atlantic County with unfair labor practices, alleging the county violated that “dynamic status quo” doctrine during contract negotiations and arbitration.

Police officers who were not yet at the top of the pay scale were due 5 percent or 6 percent step increases.

PERC dismissed the unions’ charges, rejecting a policy it said no longer reflected the economic landscape or the challenges local governments face in complying with state-imposed 2 percent caps on tax levy hikes.

The appellate court said, “Concerns regarding budgets are not a primary consideration when the agency safeguards the rights of public employees,” and that “PERC’s abandonment of the dynamic status quo doctrine was action outside the scope of its legislative mandate.”

That panel also slapped PERC in a dispute out of Bridgewater in which it deemed automatic salary increases during a lapse in contracts could no longer be negotiated or arbitrated.

The dynamic status quo doctrine has been applied to step increases since 1975. PERC said it created a level playing field for negotiations.

Now, said David Rapuano, who argued against the automatic step increases, the doctrine has an effect opposite to the one intended: contract negotiations are more difficult and unions have a disincentive to quickly settle labor disputes.

A passage in the contracts that reads “All provisions of this agreement will continue in effect until a successor agreement is negotiated,” proved a sticking point for the justices.

Rapuano said PERC didn’t recognize that any language in the contracts that would require increment payments after they expired.

Justices Barry Albin and Jaynee LaVecchia questioned PERC’s decision to apply the policy reversal to contracts that were already negotiated and implemented.

PERC’s decision altered the playing ground of negotiations “suddenly and unexpectedly after 40 years,” LaVecchia said. “Doesn’t that deserve prospective notice to parties?”

Rapuano argued PERC’s reversal did not upset any existing contracts, rather it changed the period after a contract runs out.

In effect, LaVecchia asked, hasn’t “PERC has become a player, a thumb on the scale” in contract negotiations?

Rapuano disagreed.

“Actually no. I think it finally took its hand off the negotiations. I think the dynamic status quo was the thumb.”

State employees lodged a similar complaint against Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, which similarly froze salaries for tens of thousands of workers whose contracts expired.

A union win in this case would affect every state and local public employee in New Jersey, said Ira Mintz, who represented the police unions before the court.

Patrick Colligan, president of the state Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said “If (the justices) follow all the case law and all the labor law and all the PERC decisions from the past 40 years, they will make a decision that is favorable to us,” he said.


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Photo of Michael DeRose Michael DeRose

Michael P. DeRose is a shareholder at the firm and primarily focuses his practice in labor/ employment law and other aspects of civil litigation, such as contract disputes. He has litigated and tried hundreds of matters before the Superior Court of New Jersey…

Michael P. DeRose is a shareholder at the firm and primarily focuses his practice in labor/ employment law and other aspects of civil litigation, such as contract disputes. He has litigated and tried hundreds of matters before the Superior Court of New Jersey, the Office of Administrative Law and the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission on behalf of various labor unions and their members. Michael has extensive experience defending and fighting for members of law enforcement and other public employees facing adverse disciplinary action, such as termination or suspension from employment. He also frequently argues before New Jersey’s Appellate Division on behalf of his clients.

A large portion of his practice is also devoted to contract negotiations on behalf of union clients, representing such clients in grievance arbitration/ contract disputes, and otherwise advising union leaders on labor and employment matters.  Michael also has significant experience in the realm of interest arbitration on behalf of the firm’s law enforcement and firefighter unions. As a result of the firm’s robust labor and employment practice, Michael regularly appears before various state agencies, such as the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, the New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits, the State Health Benefits Commission, and NJ PERC. In addition to representing labor unions and active employees, Michael also represents retirees before the Division of Pensions in disability retirement applications, both ordinary and accidental disability retirement, in pension forfeiture actions, and in other miscellaneous pension disputes. He also counsels private business and their principals in contract and employment law, in addition to representing their interests in civil litigation. Michael has a track record of obtaining favorable outcomes for his clients and treats each everyone of them on an individual and particularized basis in accordance with their needs.

Before joining the firm in August of 2015, Michael was an associate counsel at a civil litigation firm out in Trenton, New Jersey, where he principally focused his practice around employment law and tort claims litigation. Prior to that, he served as a law clerk in the Superior Court of New Jersey for the Honorable F. Patrick McManimon, Mercer County Vicinage, from September of 2012 to August of 2013, where he attained significant experience in the realm of alternative dispute resolution having mediated well-over one-hundred cases, primarily related to commercial and residential landlord/ tenant disputes and contract/ business litigation. He earned his Juris Doctorate in 2012 after graduating from the Western Michigan University-Thomas M. Cooley School of Law. In 2007, he earned his Bachelor of the Arts in Criminal Justice and Public Administration from Kean University where he was a member of the Kean University baseball team and vice president of the Alpha Phi Sigma chapter of the National Criminal Justice Honor Society.

Michael is admitted to the New Jersey State Bar, the United States Federal Court for the District of New Jersey, and is a member of the Mercer County Bar Association.