Legislation Introduced to Strengthen Rights of Public Sector Workers

June 26, 2019, 8:55 AM HST · Updated June 27, 10:45 AM
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Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaiʻi joined Democratic colleagues in introducing bicameral legislation in an effort to guarantee the right of public employees to organize, act concertedly, and bargain collectively in states that currently do not afford these protections.

There are nearly 17.3 million public workers across the country. Backers of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019 say that 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.

Others joining Sen. Hirono in introducing the bill include: Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).

“One year after the harmful Janus decision, public employee unions continue to stand strong in the face of an all-out right-wing assault on working people who serve our communities,” Senator Hirono said. “Public employees are teachers, firefighters, social workers, EMTs, and police officers. We rely on them every day to educate and nurture our children and to keep our communities safe. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act will ensure that every public employee has the right to organize, act concertedly, and bargain collectively. Simply put, the bill ensures public employees have a voice in the workplace.”

The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019 would provide the Federal Labor Relations Authority 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.

Backers of the legislation say 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,” supporters said.

Under the measure, 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 June 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that public sector unions are barred from charging “agency fees” to the public employees they negotiate pay increases and benefit bumps for, if those employees decline to join the union as full members. Senator Hirono spoke out against the decision, calling it a “decades-long assault funded by far-right groups, such as the Koch Brothers, on working people.”

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