In direct pushback to the U.S. Supreme Court protecting the First Amendment rights of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other state and local public employees, Democrats in Congress have introduced a bill that tramples on federalism and overrules laws passed by state legislators across the country.
The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act was introduced the same day as the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, and this year the bill was reintroduce the same week as the case’s one-year anniversary. The Janus decision recognizes the right of public employees to choose to support the union at their workplace or not. The case reiterated that public sector employees have First Amendment rights that cannot be checked at the door of their workplace.
In an affront to almost all states that have traditionally been able to create their own unique collective bargaining laws for public employees, the federal bill would mandate a one-size-fits-all approach, giving unfettered privileges to government unions.
According to the press release from Democrats on the House Education and Labor committee: “This legislation would also require public employers to recognize their employees’ union and to commit to any agreements in a written contract. Additionally, H.R. 3463 gives the federal government the authority to intervene on behalf of public-service workers should states fail to meet these standards.”
Each state is different — geographically, demographically, budgetarily — and one policy for all 50 states doesn’t often work. Each state’s population has different needs and desires. Citizens of California and North Dakota do not want or need all the same policies. This is certainly true when it comes to public sector labor.
Each state faces unique issues with its public sector workforce. Some states like Indiana, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia, do not even collectively bargain with public employees. States like Wisconsin, Michigan, and many others limit what public employees can bargain over. Some states mandate recertification elections at specified time frames or when certain events occur.
Congress has repeatedly recognized that it cannot, and should not, regulate public sector unions. State and local public employees have always had large exemptions from federal labor law.
The Supreme Court has stated that “Congress may not simply commandeer the legislative processes of the states by directly compelling them to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program.”
Congressional Democrats’ bill would explicitly ban worker voting rights, laws like those in Missouri, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin, which allow public employees the right to regularly vote on whether they want to recertify the union at their workplace.
To add insult to injury, after outlawing periodic union recertification elections, the bill then makes it even more difficult for public employees to go through a petition process to remove their union.
Technically, the bill allows public employees to demand an election if enough workers sign a petition. However, these elections are severely restricted: they cannot happen within one year after the union starts representing the public employees, before one year after the union contract ends, or between 90 to 60 days before the contract ends. Confused? Well, that is the point and if public employees miss the “window,” their right to choose who represents them in the workplace is barred.
Besides forcing states, school districts and local municipalities into bargaining with government unions, the bill then takes away power from the very people the voters put into office to manage their states. The act mandates binding arbitration if the union and public employer cannot come to an agreement. This means that an unelected official can write a contract that is binding on taxpayers.
Unions will get even more of a privilege in that if they do not like the decision of the arbitrator, they can appeal to an agency in the federal government. And if they do not like that opinion, they can appeal to federal court.
The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act is one of the most dangerous bills this congressional session — it strips away the authority of democratically elected state and local representatives, takes away rights from public employees and imposes a federally mandated, one-size-fits-all policy that will harm states and taxpayers.
F. Vincent Vernuccio is a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a nonprofit research and educational institute located in Midland, Mich. Morgan Shields is legal counsel and director of Workers for Opportunity at the Mackinac Center.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.