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July 3, 2002

Senate approves bill to boost union organizing

Despite strong Business Council opposition, state legislators have approved a union-driven bill designed to leverage state purchasing and contracting to help unions organize.

On Tuesday, a day after The Business Council sent all state Senators a strong memorandum (www.bcnys.org/whatsnew/2002/0701smm2.htm) opposing the bill, the Senate put the bill on its "non-controversial" calendar, which meant that it was voted on without debate. The Senate then approved the bill with two dissenting votes, by Sen. Mary Lou Rath (R-C/Erie County) and Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse).

The Assembly passed the bill June 26 after the Governor signaled his support by sending the Assembly a formal "message of necessity" authorizing an immediate vote. Only one Assembly member, John Faso, spoke out against the bill.

The measure "will be difficult to enforce, will create a bookkeeping nightmare for contractors, and have a chilling effect on attracting new jobs and businesses to New York," said Faso, who is the Republican candidate for state comptroller.

"While the measure is officially described as a 'neutrality' bill, in fact its enactment is being aggressively sought by the unions precisely because it would radically tilt the playing field to their advantage," Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh said in his July 1 memo to all Senators.

The bill (S.7822-Velella)/A.11784-Nolan) would:

. Impose a quagmire of new record-keeping requirements on any business or not-for-profit entity that does any business with the state.

. Create a new authority for state government to obtain and review those records - and, in the process, create a powerful tool for unions to harass employers targeted in their organizing efforts.

. Subject businesses and not-for-profits that do any business with the state to a new burden of affirmatively proving that no state funds were spent to communicate in any way about unions or the merits of organizing efforts.

. Limit employers' rights to free speech under the First Amendment.

. Undermine the National Labor Relations Act and well-established labor law, which balance workers' right to organize and employers' right to offer opinions on unions.

The bill, which was strongly supported by labor potentate Dennis Rivera and other organized labor interests, "will surely be used to harass and intimidate even employers who have made every good-faith effort to comply," Walsh's July 1 memo said.

And evidence of that materialized before the ink was dry on the bill. On Tuesday afternoon, the Civil Service Employees Association, a union representing mainly government workers, issued a press release hailing the bill and taking credit for it — and warning that "we will be watching closely to make sure all employers comply with the new law, especially those who fought so hard against it."

This bill emerged after an even more draconian proposal surfaced in the waning days of the session. That bill, also advanced by Rivera and other unions, was dubbed the "Organized Labor Intimidation Act" by The Council. At a June 25 news conference, hospitals and other health-care providers joined The Council to denounce the bill.

It would have required vendors and grantees to renounce rights to say anything about unions, and to accept a majority of workers' signatures on authorizing cards as approval of unions, replacing secret ballots. Those provisions were dropped from S.7822/A.11784-A.