Are Gov. Murphy’s worker protections eliminating the need for unions?

As co-chair of the labor and employment law practice group at Mandelbaum Salsburg P.C., Steve Adler has a good view of how lawyers and their business clients are faring with a 180-degree turn in New Jersey labor policy.

Five months into Gov. Phil Murphy’s tenure, there have been many updates in this area of the law. Adler said businesses should be wary of changes to how the state under the new administration has decided to handle classification of independent contractors, inquiries about a job application’s previous salary before job offers and employment at will rules. There’s also the governor’s big-ticket policy changes in the area of sick pay and pay equity to keep track of.

“It’s not a question of whether there’s anything wrong with these statutes — some are very worthwhile to address,” Adler said. “But it’s a question of how fair these are to businesses dealing with them. I think New Jersey will be looked at now similarly to California in terms of how far it’s willing to go for employee rights.”

One suggestion is that this could all add up to an unexpected impact on organizing workers.

“By the governor providing these statutory protections to employees, I believe it takes away some of the feeling that employees need a union to protect themselves,” Adler said. “I think the law becoming more pro-employee in many respects makes the need for unionization less … because workers may not believe they need it to better level the playing field.”

He said that with the proviso that federal statutes are likely moving the needle in the opposite direction.

“And that does have the potential to offset things somewhat,” he said. “It’s kind of interesting what Murphy is doing compared to what’s going on federally, because it’s like two ships passing in the night.”

Union leader Kevin Brown holds that there’s no amount of new employee-friendly laws that could erode the need for organizing workers.

“First and foremost, these policies wouldn’t continue to get passed — or even continue to exist — if it wasn’t for unions,” Brown said. “If you take away the chicken, you don’t get an egg.”

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