Bill ensuring union reps have access to members during workday advances in N.J.

After hearing testimony Monday, the New Jersey Assembly Labor Committee voted to advance the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act to guarantee union representatives access to public employees during the workday. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

After hearing testimony Monday, the New Jersey Assembly Labor Committee voted to advance the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act to guarantee union representatives access to public employees during the workday. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

A bill advancing in the New Jersey Legislature would ensure that union representatives have greater access to the public employees they represent.

Dubbed the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act, the measure would allow unions to meet with employees during lunch and other breaks to talk about their issues and grievances.

It would also mean that union representatives could meet with newly hired employees while they’re on the clock, said Eric Richard with the state AFL-CIO.

“We just want to make sure that we have free access to our members, and we want to have convenient access to our members to make sure they understand the benefits of unionization,” Richard said Monday during a hearing before the Assembly Labor Committee.

Michael Vrancik, representing the New Jersey School Boards Association, sounded a note of caution.

Public employers are already barred from interfering with union efforts to recruit members, he said.

“This idea of expanding the access and creating almost unfettered access to school facilities — in particular at this time, when everybody has all kinds of security concerns — this creates a potentially disruptive process,” Vrancik said.

And John Donnadio with the New Jersey Association of Counties said the legislation could create a taxpayer-funded data mining operation that might violate privacy and First Amendment rights “because it allows the employee representative organization to get date of birth information, address, cellphone number, before the employee signs on to becoming a member of the union.”

The measure’s concerns should be left to the collective bargaining process, said Michael Cerra with the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

“This will be time out of the workday that’s funded by taxpayers,” Cerra said. “There will be impact. The bill places requirements on public employers. It’s new mandates. It’s unfunded mandates.”

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