Landmark Legislation Strengthens Position of NYS Public-Sector Unions

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Governor Cuomo signs bill that limits union benefits for public-sector employees “free-riders” who choose not to join the union, as Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, Vinny Alvarez, Harry Nespoli, Michael Mulgrew - UFT, Mario Cilento - AFL-CIO, Henry Garrido – DC 37 and Alphonso David, Counsel to the Governor, look on. (Photo by Chaitram Aklu.)

By Chaitram Aklu

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo signed what is being hailed as landmark legislation by public sector unions and employees, on Thursday April 12, 2018. The Bill increases access to and protects union membership in public sector workplaces across New York State. It takes effect immediately.

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo signed what is being hailed as landmark legislation by public sector unions and employees, on Thursday April 12, 2018. The Bill increases access to and protects union membership in public sector workplaces across New York State. It takes effect immediately.

The signing took place in the packed conference hall of the United Federation of Teachers in Manhattan and was witnessed by several state legislators and representatives from various public sector unions.

The law is significant as public sector unions await the ruling in the case of Janus v. AFSCME by the US Supreme Court that is due by June 30, this year. The case involves two Illinois State employees, Mark Janus (AFSCME) and Byron Trygg (Teamsters) who filed a suit claiming that the state’s law violates their First Amendment rights by requiring them to pay agency fees to the union which they chose not join because they disagree with how the unions advocate. Their union by law, however, must represent them by way of collective bargaining and they benefit from any and all gains won by the union.

In March 2017 a Federal Appeals Court in Chicago dismissed the Janus case. It ruled that paying union dues were constitutional citing the precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) which held that nonmembers could be required to pay fees to unions as long as the funds go to collective bargaining and not to political activities. The court did rule that “requiring nonmembers to pay for political activities would violate their free speech rights in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

There is fear that the Supreme Court will rule that the mandatory collection of dues for collective bargaining is a violation of the First Amendment. The court rendered a 4-4 split decision in 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case which is basically identical to the Janus case. Justice Neil Gorsuch, appointed by President Donald Trump, replaced Scalia on the bench and it is widely believed that a 5- 4 majority will rule in favor of Janus. If that happens opt out employees will become “free-riders” – receiving benefits and protection won through collective bargaining without having to pay dues to the union. It will undermine the bargaining position of the union since collective bargaining incurs financial costs.

So this legislation is timely. The Governor told the packed hall “The Department of Justice, just filed a brief (in the Janus case) with the Supreme Court expressing the belief that the fair share of fees collected by public sector employees (unions) are a violation of the first amendment.”

He added, “The pattern is clear. They are coming at the union movement piece by piece. Why? Because there’s two reasons. Number one: because you built and protect the middle class. That’s what the labor movement did. That was their great achievement. You achieved the 40-hour work week, you achieved pension rights, you achieved OSHA benefits, you achieved safe working regulations and you are the equalizer at the bargaining table during collective bargaining and they don’t want that. They want more power in the hands of management so they can exploit the worker.” — — the labor movement has always been the engine of progressive progress from day one. The union movement drove the civil rights movement. The union movement drove the women’s rights movement. The union movement drove the environmental movement. — and that’s why they want to weaken the union movement.”

The new New York Law requires public employers to:
– Notify the relevant union within 30 days of a new employee being hired, rehired or promoted into a bargaining unit represented by that union.
– Provide the new employee’s name, address, work location to the union; and
– Permit union representatives to meet with the new employees within 30 days, for a reasonable amount of time, and without charge to leave credits.

In addition the law also provides for:
– Ensuring union membership is maintained so workers’ benefits are protected if they take leave;
– Enabling unions to send dues deductions to employers electronically, which makes easier and faster for unions to receive dues; and
– Requiring dues to be reinstated automatically if a union member employee leaves service, but is reinstated to a position with the same employer and covered by the same bargaining unit within one year.
Public employees, who chose not to join the employee union or pay dues, will continue to benefit from negotiation and enforcement of the collective bargaining agreement.

However, the union is no longer required to provide representation to a non-member,
1. during questioning by an employer, or
2. In statutory or administrative proceedings, or to enforce statutory or regulatory rights, or
3. In any stage of a grievance, arbitration, or other contractual process concerning evaluation or discipline. A non-member will now have to be represented by his or her own advocate and bear any financial costs themselves.

Meanwhile the UFT has been hard at work in a door knocking campaign which began last November to educate their members about the benefits of supporting their union and the dangers that could result if the court strikes down mandatory collective bargaining dues by ruling that the dues violate the First Amendment.

Finally, Cuomo emphasized his administration’s commitment to workers and their families in the state, including combatting the exploitation of workers and allowing full union dues to be deducted from state taxes. “We did it in New York and we’re just going to hold up New York as our model. We passed paid family leave, we passed free college, we passed women’s anti-sexual harassment, we protected union’s pension’s rights because they were earned and nobody can take them away,” he told the gathering.

Note: For a background to the Janus case, go to http://www.thewestindianonline.com/janus-v-afscme-threat-to-public-sector-unions/

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The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.

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