Getting Triborough wrong

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

“Mandate relief remains elusive,” is one of the state-related headlines in today’s Albany Times Union — and that much, at least, is true. Unfortunately, the article beneath the headline repeats a familiar canard about the origins of the Triborough Amendment.

Rick Karlin of the paper’s Capitol Bureau writes:

The Triborough Amendment is one of the most-cited mandates.

Under the rule, which came as part of an agreement by public unions not to go on strike, the terms and conditions of an existing contract stay in place even if it is expired and workers and management haven’t settled on a new deal. [Emphasis added.]

Unions have long claimed that there was a link between Triborugh and the strike prohibition.  But this is simply not true.

As explained in our recent report, “Triborough Trouble,” the law was not enacted pursuant to any “agreement by unions not to strike.” Public employee strikes have never been legally permissible in New York. They were explicitly outlawed by the Condon-Wadlin Act in 1947, a full 20 years before unionization and collective bargaining in the public sector was authorized on a statewide basis. In 1967, the Taylor Law reaffirmed the strike ban, weakening some of the more draconian Condon-Wadlin strike penalties.

The Triborough amendment was enacted in 1982, based on a “doctrine” cooked up by a state labor arbitrator a decade earlier. In the mid 1970s, the state Court of Appeals ruled the Triborough doctrine did not require payment of automatic “step” increases after expiration of a contract, which is why public employee unions fought for the stronger law. They got it, in (not coincidentally) a statewide election year, over the strong objections of the state’s local government and school board organizations, and against the advice of Hugh Carey’s own Budget Division analysts.

Union leaders such as NYSUT’s Dick Iannuzzi may like to argue that the existence of Triborough is the only thing that keeps them from striking–which, in itself, is basically a threat aimed at any politician who would dare think of repealing the law.  But the unions are bending the facts to suit their own agenda.

The Times Union article was factually wrong, and thus cries out for correction.



- E.J. McMahon is the Research Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.