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

About the Author

Ken Girardin

Ken Girardin is the Empire Center’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.

Read more by Ken Girardin

You may also like

Kathy Hochul will have to prove she can hold the line on state spending

Kathy Hochul’s  stuck to the tradition for initial inaugurals: blessedly brief, general themes, details (implicitly) to follow. Hochul’s specific priorities were lowest-common-denominator stuff: “combating” the spread of COVID-19 linked to th Read More

Nursing Cuomo’s broken trust: Kathy Hochul’s responsibility on COVID and long-term care

One of the most urgent imperatives confronting soon-to-be Gov. Kathy Hochul will be getting real about the state’s pandemic response Read More

Anatomy of an Albany Budget Blowout

For the first time ever, New York is projecting balanced state budgets across two consecutive fiscal years. Read More

10 Reasons to Oppose ‘Albanycare’

Lawmakers in Albany are again advancing the New York Health Act, which would abolish private health insurance and herd all New Yorkers into a state-run “single payer” plan financed with massive tax hikes. Instead of building on recent progress—wh Read More

Pandemic lesson: New York must shore up public health system

As New York emerges from the worst pandemic in a century, its citizens face a new threat to their lives and economic well-being — the danger that their leaders will fail to learn from the past year’s painful experience. One lesson above all deserve Read More

The wrong way to help workers

A push to revamp the collective bargaining status of drivers steering passenger and delivery vehicles for app-based firms like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash sta Read More

Beyond booze-to-go: NY should make other COVID red-tape cuts permanent

Republican lawmakers in Albany are calling for a special session to revive the popular alcohol-to-go provision Read More

Buffalo Goes Red

While New Yorkers waited to see whether the results of Tuesday’s primary would move Gotham politics even further to the left, an avowed socialist had scored a huge upset victory in the Empire State’s second-largest city. With all primary-day and early Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100

General Inquiries: Info@EmpireCenter.org

Press Inquiries: Press@EmpireCenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo Enjoying our work? Sign up for email alerts on our latest news and research.
Together, we can make New York a better place to live and work!