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Despite earlier trepidation, Newark, N.J., city attorneys have voted overwhelmingly in favor of forming a union. Of the 17 attorneys who were eligible to vote in the secret-ballot election, held last Wednesday afternoon at City Hall, 13 participated, resulting in an 11-2 decision. “It went our way,” says Robert Rudy, an associate at Supino & Jacobs in West Orange, N.J., who represents the newly formed Association of Government Attorneys. “Hopefully, they’ll have better working conditions and hopefully it will benefit the city of Newark also, because they will have better attorneys.” Corporation Counsel Michelle Hollar-Gregory did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the vote. The city has until Thursday to object to the outcome of the vote. The unionization effort began last September, when attorneys in the city’s law department complained of unreasonable working conditions, meager benefits and inequitable salaries and sought the state Public Employment Relations Commission’s permission to petition for a union election. The movement sputtered briefly after Hollar-Gregory learned of the plan and announced at a staff meeting that the organizing lawyers were committing an ethical violation. She did not specify which ethical rule had been broken. In response, the association has filed an unfair labor practices charge against Hollar-Gregory that is pending. “I feel vindicated,” says Salvador Simao, the city lawyer who first circulated the petition to hold an election throughout the Corporation Counsel Office. “I was deeply hurt when my peers accused me of what I believe were outrageous acts,” namely that he had lied or tricked people into signing the petition. Simao has since resigned from the city and is now an attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor in New York. Angelo Genova, a partner with Livingston, N.J.’s Genova, Burns & Vernoia, has argued that the formation of a union by municipal attorneys violates the state’s Employer-Employee Relations Act, N.J.S.A. 34:13A-3(d), because attorneys are “a unique profession” who are subject to different requirements than other types of employees. Genova told PERC that attorneys are not the type of employees the act seeks to protect because their legal training allows them to understand the negotiating process without the aid of a union. However, PERC disagreed and upheld the lawyers’ right to collective bargaining. In its decision last month authorizing the election, PERC noted that it had previously recognized the right for attorneys to organize in a previous decision, Newark Housing Authority, 18 NJPER 432 (1992). A PERC representative supervised the hour-long election last week. Initially, 24 out of 28 city attorneys signed the petition. At least two-thirds of them later repudiated, leaving seven signatures that were submitted to PERC for consideration. Twelve lawyers also signed a “Withdrawal Petition for Representation” asserting that they were misled into signing the original petition, which the city submitted to PERC. “They panicked,” Simao says, referring to the lawyers who signed the withdrawal petition. “That shows you the intimidation factor in the city of Newark.” But the April 18 ruling by PERC Director Stuart Reichman authorizing the unionization vote agreed that the language in the pro-union petition “clearly, plainly and unambiguously” stated its purpose. In addition to Law Department attorneys, lawyers working in the city’s Development, Water and Zoning departments were eligible to participate in the election as long as they were not managerial executives, confidential employees or section chiefs or handle labor matters.

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