Local Governments Fear Collective Bargaining Bill

Congress could force states and cities to allow union negotiation for police and fire fighters.
by , | December 7, 2010
 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing legislation that would grant collective bargaining rights to state and local police, fire and EMS personnel in a move vigorously opposed by local governments.

A cloture vote, which would lead to a full vote of the Senate, could occur later this week after the Senate finishes impeachment proceedings against Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr.

State and local governments fear the bill, S.3991, will raises costs for already cash-strapped governments.

For years, collective bargaining rights have been a point of contention between public safety workers and their employers. Whenever the issue comes to a head, governors and mayors are put in the awkward position of advocating against interests of police and firefighters in the interest of saving their communities money.

National League of Cities lobbyist Neil Bomberg speculated that Reid's push to advance the bill is merely an attempt to fulfill a campaign promise of bringing it to a vote - but actually passing it could be difficult given the crowded agenda of the lame-duck Congress.

Still, the organization is urging its members to contact their legislators and emphasize their opposition, saying the bill "interferes with states' and local governments' rights to manage their employment relationships; violates federalism principles; and may be unconstitutional."

The National Association of Counties also writes that the bill has serious implications "because no funding is provided for state or local implementation."

The bill has been introduced three other times this Congress but stalled.

Unsurprisingly, organizations such as the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Fraternal Order of Police strongly support the legislation. "The right to bargain collectively over hours, wages, and working conditions is enjoyed by virtually all employees in the United States," the FOP writes. "Yet this basic right is still denied to law enforcement officers and other public safety employees across the country."

Under the bill, the Federal Labor Relations Authority has six months to determine whether a state's laws:

  • Give public safety workers the right to form and join a labor organization
  • Require employers to recognize that organization
  • Give public safety workers the right to bargain over hours, wages, and terms and conditions of employment
  • Make an impasse resolution — such as mediation or arbitration — available if those discussions fail.

States that already have those guidelines in place won't have to make any chances. But those that don't will be required by federal law to change them.

The deadline is either two years after Reid's bill passes or the final day of the first new legislative session after its passage — whichever is later.

The bill also bans employers from locking out public safety workers while prohibiting the workers from going on strike or launching any other type of work slowdown. However, those provisions of the bill do not preempt existing state laws.

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