After a decade of political and judicial setbacks, government-employee labor unions want Congress to end-run state laws they see as limiting their privileges. And powerful Dems seem ready to oblige.
Take the union-backed Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would subject all states to a federal minimum standard for public-employee bargaining. If a state law doesn’t meet specific criteria set forth in the bill, employees would instead bargain under federal rules.
Progressives introduced the measure after a US Supreme Court ruling last year in Janus v. AFSCME prohibited the forced collection of dues-like fees from government employees who choose not to join. While supporters claim the proposed law merely intends to protect union bargaining rights, it would represent a major change in the federal government’s long-standing neutrality towards state and local labor relations.
The nation’s foundational labor relations statute, the 1935 Wagner Act, pointedly excluded government employees from organizing and from collective-bargaining rights. The New Deal era’s pro-labor Democrats recognized that, as FDR put it, “the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”
That left government labor relations to be regulated by a patchwork of state and local laws, ranging from flat-out bargaining bans in a handful of states to laws allowing bargaining in limited situations to full-blown Wagner Act-style privileges for government unions. Today, roughly half of the states don’t grant broad collective-bargaining privileges to all government employees, and bill proponents want to change that.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has said the bill targets “sinister anti-worker state laws” — typically overwrought union-speak for restrictions on the bargaining power of public unions. Among other things, the law would void state requirements for periodic union recertification elections, a key reform adopted in Wisconsin under former Gov. Scott Walker and later in Iowa and Florida.
But the bill is written so broadly it would also override decades-old state-bargaining laws that have enriched unions and their members in labor-friendly states such as New Jersey, California, Illinois, Maryland and even New York.
That’s because the law’s minimum public-sector bargaining standards would include giving every employee “an interest impasse resolution mechanism that includes a procedure for the settlement of grievances … which culminates in binding arbitration.”
Requiring binding arbitration, as opposed to simply allowing parties to come to terms directly, would be a one-way street to inflexible and expensive labor deals, as New York and other states have learned in the case of laws providing this kind of leverage specifically to police and fire unions. Insulated from electoral accountability, arbitrators are often oblivious to fiscal pressures.
In New York, police and fire pay climbed at close to three times the rate of other state and municipal employees in the four decades after Albany let public safety unions demand arbitration of contract impasses, according to an Empire Center study. Result: 26 suburban police forces, including those of Suffolk County and Westchester County, last year had average pay north of $150,000. Six-figure pensions, meanwhile, have become the norm for newly retired officers.
In another overreach, the proposed federal law would force states to bargain with their supervisory employees, further weakening management prerogatives. This effectively endorses the approach taken by fiscally shaky Connecticut, where newly unionized assistant attorneys general this spring scored 11 percent raises via binding arbitration.
This measure isn’t just an empty political gesture. More than half of the House Democratic caucus, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have embraced it. Thirty-five of the Senate’s 47 Democrats, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, are co-sponsoring the bill in the upper chamber. And every Democratic presidential contender has endorsed it in concept, if not by name.
Democrats apparently believe that nationwide extension of public-sector collective bargaining rights — even going beyond laws in states where they enjoy a cozy relationship with labor — would be a small price to pay for union support of their bid to recapture both houses of Congress and the White House.
If they get their way, state and local taxpayers across the country will be handed the bill.
© 2019 New York Post