In 2016, the Employers Association of New Jersey commemorated its one-hundred year anniversary in a lavish setting filled with recognitions and proclamations.
“What have you done for me lately?” asks John Sarno, the group’s president with a sly grin.
With over 2,000 employers in the membership and 33,000 members in its multi-employer health care plan, Sarno believes that both the organization and the state may be at a turning point.
While the current jobs numbers indicate, New Jersey has now gained back all of the jobs that were cut during the last recession, the employment rate, which measures a specific slice of the state’s population, suggests there is still some more room for improvement.
More troubling, the U.S. Census shows a widening income gap and the shrinking of New Jersey’s middle class. Only twenty percent of the Association’s membership now engages in manufacturing, down by as much as three-fourths since 2000. The stable manufacturing enterprises and the unions that guaranteed good paying jobs, and that gave the Association its fundamental mission, no longer exist.
“Smaller employers do not face the traditional risk of union organizing and the solutions for managing generic HR compliance risk have been commoditized as the HR function has become marginalized,” explains Sarno.
“What kind of state are we becoming; what kind of economy can be sustained with meaningful work for those who want to work; how competitive are we?” he asks.
The free market American Legislative Exchange Council ranks New Jersey above only Vermont and New York in tax rates, regulatory burdens and labor policies. The state’s stubbornly high poverty rate - officially at 11 percent, is considerably higher in practical terms.
And the N.J. Business and Industry Association warns of a brain drain.
“But New Jersey’s competitiveness is measured by more than tax and welfare policies,” says Sarno.
“It is not only about the zero-sum choice between cutting taxes for the affluent at the expense of supporting programs for the working poor. It’s also about investing in human capital and maximizing human resources. It’s about nurturing an environment that fosters creativity and spirit at work, working for a common purpose, and ensuring that everyone who gives their best effort has a fair opportunity to succeed.
“That’s what EANJ has been doing lately,” he adds.
To this end, Sarno notes that “while every employer is a business, not every business is an employer.”
“Employers typically nurture and develop human talent – a business, not so much,” he says.
Recognizing that people are the foundation of every business, the Association is rededicating itself to helping “good employers be better.”
On its new website, the Association has published its value statement. It says:
Good employers provide healthcare coverage to employees and their families.
Good employers support the retirement security of employees and their families.
Good employers care about the well-being of employees and their families.
Good employers pay fair and reasonable wages.
Good employers make sound and responsible employment decisions.
Good employers strive to be better.”
For EANJ, value and values are inextricably linked. And Sarno says that the organization is delivering every day on value and values.
In addition to EANJ’s healthcare plan, its multi-employer retirement savings plan has exceeded $4 million under management and an EANJ-sponsored employee assistance program will be officially launched at the group’s Annual Meeting on May 24th.
“The May 24th membership meeting will be the embodiment of our value and values.” says Sarno.