Harris, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Strengthen Rights of Public Sector Workers to Join Unions, Bargain Collectively
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday joined Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and 33 of their colleagues in introducing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019, legislation that will guarantee the right of public employees to organize, act concertedly, and bargain collectively in states that currently do not afford these basic protections. There are nearly 17.3 million public workers across the country. Unlike private sector workers, there is no federal law protecting the freedom of public sector workers to join a union and collectively bargain for fair wages, benefits, and improved working conditions.
“When workers have the ability to organize and collectively bargain, we’re all better off,” Senator Harris said. “We have unions to thank for the five-day work week, eight-hour work day, and so much more. Today, as the Supreme Court chips away at the rights of public sector unions, we must take action to reaffirm union rights and ensure that public employees maintain their hard-fought protections and keep the ability to bargain for higher wages and better benefits.”
The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019 provides the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) with the authority to determine whether a state, territory, or locality provides public employees and supervisors the right:
- To form, join, or assist a union, to bargain collectively, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid (including the filing of joint, class or collective legal claims) or protection;
- To have their union recognized by their public employer if the union is freely chosen by a majority of employees, to bargain with the employer through the union, and to commit their collective-bargaining agreement to writing;
- To be free from forced recertification elections of their already-recognized representative and decertification of their chosen representative within one year of an election or the expiration of a valid collective bargaining agreement;
- To have a procedure for resolving impasses in collective bargaining culminating in binding arbitration; and
- To authorize employers to deduct fees to the union from their payroll when employees consent.
The FLRA approach gives states wide flexibility to write and administer their own labor laws provided they meet this minimum standard. If a state substantially provides for the rights and procedures laid out in the bill, that state is unaffected by this bill. States that do not provide for these rights or only partially provide for these rights, however, will be compelled to meet these basic labor standards. The FLRA must issue regulations within one year of the bill becoming law and they can enforce the law through federal court. The bill also creates a private right of action to enforce compliance in federal court but only if the FLRA has not yet filed suit seeking relief for the same issue.
In addition to Senators Harris and Hirono, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Debbie Stabenow (D-MH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Robert Casey (D-PA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Gary Peters (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act is supported by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.
Full text of the legislation is available here.
Next Article Previous Article