1435 Morris Avenue - Suite 3A, Union, NJ 07083
Tim Haresign, President

Our Labor Representative on The State Health Benefits Commission Cleared of Ethics Charge

On April 23rd, the NJ State Ethics Commission (SEC) cleared senior CWA representative Dudley Burge of an ethics charge related to his role as a commissioner on the State Health Benefits Commission. Dudley credits his victory, in part, to his union brothers and sisters whose “solidarity was tremendous and definitely impacted the Ethics Commission's decision.”

Who is Dudley Burge and what did he do that was so unethical anyway?

Dudley Burge is a senior CWA staff representative and a representative of the New Jersey AFL-CIO Public Employee Committee on the State Health Benefits Commission. He is our “go-to guy” for information about your health care benefits, your appeals to the Commission and about its general affairs.

Dudley’s run-in with the State Ethics Commission began in 2009 after he received calls from State employees enrolled the State Health  Benefits Program who were concerned about letters they received from a private out-of-state company that was running the State’s Dependent Eligibility Verification Audit (DEVA). The letters asked for personal information such as copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc., to be sent to an address of an unknown entity in Illinois and it threatened the employees with termination of dependent health care if the documents were not sent there. This company was, in fact, conducting an audit of dependent coverage, but without the knowledge of the State Health Benefits Commission.

Thus, Burge was acting on employees’ justifiable concerns about their privacy when he called the Illinois company that sent out the letters to get more information about the audit. In this call, he identified himself both as a union representative and as a Commissioner. In 2010 the Christie administration referred this matter to the State Ethics Commission alleging that Burge improperly identified himself as a commissioner when he made his sole phone call on behalf of plan members. In July 2011, nearly two years later, the State charged Dudley with an ethics violation.

This January, after another two years and thousands of dollars in legal fees, Burge’s case went before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). In February the ALJ recommended dismissing the case but the Ethics Commission attorneys filed exceptions, (which means it filed exceptions to itself!). The case went back to the Commission, which scheduled a hearing for April 22.

To rally support for Dudley Burge, the CWA sent out a call for public employee union activists to converge on the State Ethics Commission in Trenton to demand that it “DROP THE CHARGES.” A loud group of supporters assembled outside the building and then went upstairs to the Commission’s board room, where the hearing was to be held.  The Star Ledger, the Bergen Record, NJTV, WHYY and NJ Spotlight all covered the event. By 3:00 pm that day we learned that the SEC dropped the charges.

Burge is relieved that the charges were dropped, but he is still angry because he believes that the Christie administration uses the threat of ethics charges to intimidate and silence advocates of the rights of public employees and the public interest.  For example, the Christie administration (unsuccessfully) used the threat of ethics charges against the Pinelands Commission to push for a pipeline through the protected Pinelands Reserve and it employed the same tactic at the State Health Benefits Design Committee to try to shut down discussion about maintaining affordable health care rates for plan members.

The Council participated in the rally on behalf of Dudley Burge along with many of his CWA and other supporters.  We applaud his courage and congratulate him on his vindication. We won this battle, but the war continues over the Governor’s attempt to use the State Ethics Commission as a political weapon against his critics.