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With the stroke of a pen, New Jersey has put itself in the position of defiling some of America’s most cherished principles of our democratic election system and harming the state’s struggling small businesses in the process. It is an action that never should have been taken. On July 19, Acting New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey signed into law legislation that radically changes the way workers are recruited to join unions. The so-called card check legislation (S-194 and A-1820) allows unions to instantly organize a majority of employees by merely having them sign an authorization card expressing “an interest” in union representation. No secret ballot. No definitive “yes” to union representation. No opportunity for employers to present the pros and cons of unionization. No requirement to adhere to the fair election procedures of the National Labor Relations Act, the federal law that governs secret ballot elections for employees of employers engaged in interstate commerce. Clearly, the card check legislation offends the interests of employees as well as employers. It rewards aggressive union organizers who may coerce workers into signing cards. It penalizes workers who did not understand what they were signing. In sum, the legislation is bad medicine for New Jersey’s small businesses, already hurting from soaring health and unemployment insurance costs. And it is flatly contrary to America’s tradition of free and open elections. Instant unionization is a prescription for instant trouble. It is difficult not to conclude that this is another thrust by a Trenton administration to provide and promote nothing more than a union organizing tool to a voting bloc that consistently delivers the electorate for its candidates. New Jersey’s Senate Democrats, in a press statement on Dec. 13, 2004, conceded that the legislation helps unions organize workers more easily than in the past. The statement said: “A bill sponsored by Senator Bob Smith which would make it easier for non-unionized employees to organize to increase their negotiating power was approved by the Senate Labor Committee today by a vote of 3-0.” Sen. Smith, D-Middlesex, himself said in the statement: “By allowing employees to designate a majority spokesperson through card-check, we’re opening up the power to organize to occupations that have traditionally been closed off to organized labor.” One of the primary sponsors of the Assembly’s version of the legislation, Assemblyman Joseph Egan, D-Middlesex (who also serves as business manager of Electrical Workers Local 456 in North Brunswick, N.J.), tried to soften the impact of the legislation by pointing out that it would apply to workers excluded from National Labor Relations Act coverage, such as “domestic workers and people who work at racetracks, small businesses, retailers that do less than $500,000 of business and small restaurants that aren’t involved in interstate commerce.” The legislation also covers independent contractors, agricultural workers and supervisors. While true, the National Labor Relations Act covers many more employers and employees, the fact remains that the card check legislation will thwart the growth of small business in New Jersey. Some sectors of New Jersey’s small businesses already are fighting for survival, and the measure could very well hasten the exodus of New Jersey entrepreneurs to states with a more hospitable business climate. A report by the National Federation of Independent Business/New Jersey in March said the state’s “overall business climate is not viewed favorably,” with only 15 percent of small business owners surveyed saying they considered the climate as “supportive” of small business. Nearly a quarter of the respondents said hiring has been slow. Supporters of the card check legislation also apparently ignore the sentiment among rank-and-file union members who oppose the very type of activity provided in the measure. According to a Zogby International poll conducted last year, a majority of union members surveyed (53 percent to 41 percent) rejected the idea that having union organizers ask workers to sign their name on a card if they want a union was the fairest way to decide on a union. Acting Gov. Codey obviously wasn’t listening. Alan I. Model is a principal in Grotta, Glassman & Hoffman of Roseland, which handles labor and employment law matters for management-side clients.

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