Democrats Offer Bills to Protect Public-Sector Worker Rights

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By Jaclyn Diaz

Labor leaders and congressional Democrats still reeling from the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling stood side by side June 28 to announce their latest effort to shore up bargaining rights for state and local government workers.

The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would establish collective bargaining rights for all state and local employees and roll back state right-to-work laws.

The proposals--introduced in both houses of Congress--would also allow dues and agency fees to be deducted directly from a worker’s paycheck. This would cover teachers, law enforcement officers, emergency personnel, and other local government employees.

The bills are sponsored by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and already have the support of several Democrats in both chambers.

The proposals arrive in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that public employees can’t be forced to pay “fair share” union fees. Just hours after the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he will retire on July 31.

Labor leaders expressed disappointment in the decision and said the justices are out of touch and on the side of corporations.

Labor will continue to organize and bargain as they’ve been doing, they said.

“We simply won’t allow a corporate-controlled Supreme Court to get in the way,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said at the lawmakers’ press conference.

Hirono told Bloomberg Law after introducing the bill that she hopes it gets passed but that there’s also an effort to work at the state level to ensure protections for unions and public-sector workers.

“We’re looking to a lot of states like New York and Hawaii that could pass some foundational legislation that can protect unions, but particularly public sector unions,” which are currently under attack, Hirono said.

Mutual Support

Trumka and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders attended the event to endorse the legislation.

Trumka reminded the representatives in the room that this is the kind of work unions need to see from lawmakers so they give their political support and endorsements.

“Any candidate who wants the support of working people is going to have to support those bills as well,” he said.

This is the latest example of congressional Democrats pushing legislation that closely aligns the party with labor.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who caucuses with the Democrats, introduced the Workplace Democracy Act on May 9. It would make major changes to the National Labor Relations Act, including rendering it easier for workers to prove they’re employees—rather than contingent workers—with the right to unionize and negotiate collectively with management.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced legislation June 25, the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, which strengthens protections for farm workers. The bill also amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to grant farm workers overtime protections and eliminates exemptions to the minimum wage for farm workers.

Group Vows to Fight Measures

Right-to-work organizations are paying attention to what politicians are putting forward, too.

“The National Right to Work Committee will also let our members know which politicians support this massive union boss power grab, so they can hold those politicians accountable,” Greg Mourad , vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, said in a statement.

Mourad also said the bills are “highly unlikely to come to the floor of the House or Senate this year.” But the National Right to Work Committee will fight “any and all bills like these that would force more Americans under Big Labor’s monopoly thumb.”

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