A bill in Congress would overrule state laws and allow all government employees to join a union and bargain
One year ago, the Supreme Court issued the Janus v AFSCME decision that brought right to work to the entire public sector. While this decision got a lot of attention, it was just the next step in a long-running war against public employee unions. For decades states have been passing laws to limit these unions abilities to collect dues and represent their workforces. Some states have even gone as far as making it illegal for a public employee union to collective bargain. While states like Nevada and Delaware have recently overturned these laws, many states have not.
To combat this a new bill, called the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, has been introduced in the Senate and the House. The bill would ensure that all public employees are guaranteed the right to organize and the right to collectively bargain. Not only does it allow collective bargaining, but it specifies that they are allowed to bargain for wages and safer workplaces. This is because some unions, like the TSA, have limited bargaining rights. The legislation would also require that public employers recognize their employee’s union and commit to any agreements in a written contract. If the state fails to meet these requirements, the federal government would gain the right to step in and intervene.
“Union workers receive higher pay, greater access to paid sick leave, and better medical and retirement benefits compared to non-union workers,” said Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott. “One year after the Supreme Court discarded four decades of precedent to dismantle the rights of public sector unions, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would guarantee that public service employees can negotiate for fair wages and working conditions. This bill recognizes that unions are critical to rebuilding America’s middle class.”
Activism among public employees has spiked in recent years. In 2018, West Virginia teachers went on strike over school funding and salaries. Since then, more than 450,000 workers have taken part in a strike or work stoppage. This is the highest number since 1986. This includes teachers in Arizona, Oklahoma, California, Kentucky, and Colorado. Many of these job actions occurred in states where the employees had no legal right to strike or join a union. Currently, 25% of states have some sort of ban on collective bargaining. Additionally, states like North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia ban all government employees from joining a union.
The law is also important because in some states collective bargaining for public employees is a legal gray area. In Alabama, Mississippi, Colorado, Wyoming, and Arizona, collective bargaining isn’t outright banned, but for some job titles, like police, fire, and teachers contracts, it just isn’t “allowed.” This bill would clarify that all of these workers have the right to bargain for their wages and benefits.
“In 2017, Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature went after our working families and gutted the collective bargaining rights of our state employees. We’ve seen safety compromised, major staffing cuts, and burdensome recertification requirements rigged against working people. Hardworking Iowans need to know that their safety and their ability to provide for their families are never up for debate. They step up for their families and fellow Iowans every single day. I’m proud to sponsor this legislation to make sure that this never happens again,” said Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (IA-01).