Bill to Strengthen Union Negotiators Faces Pataki Veto

| Media Coverage

Read article here

Governor Pataki is expected today to veto legislation that would significantly weaken the leverage of municipal governments and school districts over public unions during contract negotiations.

Among the dozens of vetoes that the governor is expected to hand down today will be a rejection of a bill passed by lawmakers in June that would award automatic pay raises to public employees if employers are found to be negotiating in bad faith.

Lawmakers backed the bill in the aftermath of the three-day city transit in December, which fueled calls from labor leaders to change the state’s labor law to strengthen their bargaining position. The legislation vetoed by the governor would have its greatest impact on New York City labor disputes, which often drag on for years. The bill targeted a critical point of leverage that public employers have over labor unions — the ability to prolong negotiations and wait out a settlement.

State lawmakers are not expected to override the measure.

The governor is also expected to veto a bill backed by the labor-supported Working Families Party that would gives unions a $25 million subsidy from the state’s Healthy New York program to purchase health insurance coverage for members. State business groups lobbied hard against both measures.

“The purpose of Healthy New York is to help small businesses provide insurance to their workers. This would be a deviation from that purpose,” a source close to the governor said.

Under the labor legislation, a union whose contract has expired would be awarded with an immediate 1% salary increase if the Public Employment Relations Board, the independent state agency that administers New York’s Taylor Law, finds that the employer has failed to bargain in “good faith.” Until the employer meets the board’s standard, employees would receive additional 0.5% raises every three months.

The bill would also reduce the fines on striking employees if the labor board found that the employer wasn’t negotiating properly. Employees would be docked the daily rate of pay for every day they are on strike, instead of two day’s pay, and unions would no longer forfeit members’ automatic dues deductions.

Critics of the bill said it would tie the hands of municipal governments during negotiations and would encourage unions to stage illegal strikes by making it less costly. The bill “would have had the effect of giving more of an advantage to the union to exact more expensive contracts that would inevitably increase local government costs,” a spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, David Ernst, said.

Although the Legislature is not expected to override, damage has already been done, another critic of the bill, E.J. McMahon, the director of the Empire Center, a conservative fiscal policy group in Albany, said. He said lawmakers are encouraging “a sense of entitlement among union members.”

Union officials have long sought changes to the Taylor Law that they say are necessary to put unions on a more even playing field. Unions do have the option of requesting that the Public Employment Relations Board declare an impasse and move negotiations to mediation and binding arbitration, but the process takes too long to complete, union leaders say.

“While workers who strike face heavy penalties under the Taylor Law, public employers who refuse to bargain in good faith suffer no such harsh consequences,” the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said in testimony in March.