A microbiologist walks into the Public Employee Relations Commission…
Do you see the makings of a joke here? Unfortunately, that joke was on every public employee in New Jersey back in 2011. A microbiologist did walk into the PERC Commission. She ran fundraisers for the governor’s first term which apparently qualifies you to run a New Jersey state agency dealing with public sector employment issues. She had no labor experience, no law experience and hadn’t even been in the workforce during the previous decade or so. What were her qualifications to be the new Chairperson at PERC? She was “involved” in negotiations while she was on the Summit Board of Education. Yes, that was her testimony to the New Jersey State Senate when she was being “vetted.” Well, I just watched a video on brain surgery. Anybody willing to let me give it a try?
So what does a wholly unqualified person do to an agency well known for decades of impartiality and fairness to labor and management? She obliterates the impeccable reputation of the agency and every dedicated employee that helped build that reputation. As a faithful servant to this administration, she terminates the only person that can really stand in her way: Ira Mintz was hired by the agency in 1985 under a republican governor. He rose through the ranks from staff attorney to General Counsel. He was retained under multiple administrations by both parties because of his stellar reputation and unquestionable ethics. Ira did something that would now be considered strange there. He made decisions based on facts, not political influence. She fired him in a 15-second conversation three weeks after she arrived.
So P. Kelly sees a case coming down the pike. As you can guess by now it is the Atlantic County case (and eventually Bridgewater) that allows employees to progress through the steps while out of contract. P. Kelly must have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before because apparently she is so eminently qualified that she has to handle the case herself. The microbiologist decides that none of the superbly qualified and dedicated labor attorneys that have been employed by PERC can even touch this case. P. Kelly is going to rely on all of her life experience with bacteria, viruses, archaea, fungi and protozoa and handle this case herself. Anybody see the joke yet? Unfortunately, I stopped laughing back in 2011.
So, P. Kelly disregards those decades of PERC decisions and case law and decides that the steps have to stop. It gets argued and appealed. I won’t bore you with the details, but when a vindictive order from an administration is carried out by a willing lemming, it has a tough time facing the scrutiny of a judge. Thankfully, a three-judge appellate panel ruled unanimously that the microbiologist ruled incorrectly on this incredibly important labor issue.
Miss Hatfield, you’ve done enough damage to the reputation of your office and the devoted professionals who have dedicated their lives to public sector labor law and public service. I promise to stay out of the world of microorganisms if you leave the labor decisions to the people who are actually qualified to do it.
Congratulations to all the attorneys that worked on this case over the years. The case began back when I was on the PERC Commission, and I always felt confident that it would be ruled on based on the substance of the case, decades of case law and prior PERC rulings. Hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours were wasted by both sides of this case, another stellar example of wasted money spent by the state to hurt the public employee. I have no doubt it will just be deducted from the pension payment.
Before I close this month I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on another great Mini Convention. If you missed Gary Spath’s incredibly powerful story about his experiences surrounding the 1990 shooting of an “armed suspect” you missed one amazing story of personal struggle, the power of the Thin Blue Line and a life turned around. Thank you for sharing your story, Gary. I’ll never forget it. You could hear a pin drop. An amazing journey that you certainly didn’t deserve.
Sadly, our brothers and sisters at the NJ State Police lost another hero. What an amazing life crammed into 31 years and taken in a tragic accident. Rest in peace Trooper Sean Cullen.
Please stay safe!