“New Yorkers have paid a steep price for labor peace” under the 40-year-old Taylor Law authorizing collective bargaining by public employee unions, says a report issued today by the Empire Center for Public Policy.
Efforts to reduce New York’s state and local tax burden—perennially among the nation’s heaviest—are being “hampered by aspects of the Taylor Law that have evolved to the distinct disadvantage of management,” the report says.
Reforms recommended by the report include a rigorous community “ability to pay” standard to guide arbitration panels towards more affordable contracts for police officers and firefighters, and elimination of the so-called “Triborough amendment” that now requires continued payment of automatic salary “step” increases even after a contract has expired.
The report—entitled Taylor Made: The Cost and Consequences of New York’s Public-Sector Labor Laws—documents significant growth in state and local government payrolls over the four decades since the Taylor Law was enacted in 1967. Key findings include the following:
- Over the past 40 years, the number of state and local government jobs in New York has grown at more than twice the rate of private-sector employment.
- New York has the most heavily unionized public sector workforce in the nation. One out of every eight working New Yorkers is a public employee union member, compared to a one-in-19 average in all other states.
- State and local government employees receive higher average pay and more generous benefits than most private-sector workers in New York.
In addition to changes in the Taylor Law’s arbitration “Triborough” provisions, the report recommends statutory modifications to rulings by the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that have restricted the ability of government managers to outsource or subcontract work done by public employees and to restructure retiree health benefits promised co current workers.
The report says state officials should strongly reaffirm the Taylor Law’s legal sanctions against strikes, including fines and suspension of union dues “check-off” privileges. These provisions would have been weakened under bills passed by the Assembly and Senate in 2006 but vetoed by former Governor Pataki—part of what the report calls “the most significant legal assault on public-sector management in New York since 1967.” Although these bills have not passed again in 2007, the report cites strong legislative support as “a troubling sign that they will re-emerge.”
The co-authors of Taylor Made are Terry O’Neil, a partner in the firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King who is one of New York’s leading employment law specialists; and E.J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center. The Albany-based Center is a non-partisan, independent think tank.
The report and its findings were presented at a public forum in Albany before an audience of including leading figures in both public-sector labor and management. Featured speakers included Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and PERB Chairman Jerome Lefkowitz.