Press Release

May 16, 2024
Cardin, Van Hollen Join Colleagues in Introducing Legislation to Strengthen Rights of Public Sector Workers to Join Unions, Bargain Collectively
Currently, there is no federal protection for public sector workers to join a union or collectively

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) joined Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA) today in introducing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, bicameral legislation to guarantee the right of public sector employees to organize, act concertedly, and bargain collectively in states that currently do not afford these basic protections.

“Our public sector workforce is one of our nation’s greatest assets. State, county and local workers – people who are on the front lines serving their communities – deserve the same right to form and join unions as federal and private sector workers,” said Senator Ben Cardin. “Unions helped build this country’s wealth and prosperity, and restoring union rights and collective bargaining will make it easier for all workers – public sector and private sector alike – to rejoin the middle class.”

“American workers’ right to organize is firmly entrenched in our democratic principles – but for state and local government employees, this right is under attack. We must act to ensure the millions of public servants across our nation – no matter where they live – have the freedom to unionize and fight to be treated fairly as they do critical work for our communities,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Private sector workers are guaranteed the right to organize under federal law, so too should public sector workers,” said Senator Hirono. “The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act will help ensure every public employee has their voice heard in the workplace, protecting their rights to organize for fair wages, benefits, and working conditions. I’m proud to lead this legislation to preserve and strengthen the right to unionize for public sector workers who teach our children, protect our safety, and keep our communities moving forward.”

“I will always fight to maintain collective bargaining rights for hard-working Americans, including my constituents in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where union rights are a time-honored tradition,” Representative Cartwright said. “Strong public and private sector unions built the middle class in our country. With all of the progress workers of all stripes have made, now is not the time to turn back the clock on fair pay and workplace protections when struggling families need it the most.”

While all workers’ labor rights are under threat throughout the country, unlike private sector workers, there is currently no federal law protecting the freedom of public sector workers to join a union and collectively bargain for fair wages, benefits, and improved working conditions. As of 2022, there were over 19 million public workers across the U.S.

Specifically, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act will provide the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) with the authority to determine whether a state, territory, or locality provides public employees and supervisors the right:

  • To form, join, or assist a union, to bargain collectively, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid (including the filing of joint, class or collective legal claims) or protection;
  • To have their union recognized by their public employer if the union is freely chosen by a majority of employees, to bargain with the employer through the union, and to commit their collective-bargaining agreement to writing;
  • To be free from forced recertification elections of their already-recognized representative and decertification of their chosen representative within one year of an election or the expiration of a valid collective bargaining agreement;
  • To have a procedure for resolving impasses in collective bargaining culminating in binding arbitration; and
  • To authorize employers to deduct fees to the union from their payroll when employees consent.

The FLRA approach gives states wide flexibility to write and administer their own labor laws, provided they meet this minimum standard. If a state substantially provides for the rights and procedures laid out in the bill, that state is unaffected by this bill. States that do not provide for these rights or only partially provide for these rights, however, will be compelled to meet these basic labor standards. The FLRA must issue regulations within one year of the bill becoming law and they can enforce the law through federal court. The bill also creates a private right of action to enforce compliance in federal court but only if the FLRA has not yet filed suit seeking relief for the same issue.

In addition to Senators Cardin, Van Hollen and Hirono and Representative Cartwright, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Laphonza Butler (C-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), John Fetterman (D-PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

In the House, the bill is cosponsored by Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Scott Peters (D-CA), Jahanna Hayes (D-CT), Chuy García (D-IL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), David Trone (D-MD), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Susan Wild (D-PA), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Frederica Wilson (FL), Nikema Williams (GA), Dan Kildee (D-MI), André Carson (D-IN), Bill Foster (D-IL), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Jill Tokuda (D-HI), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Angie Craig (D-MN), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Greg Landsman (D-OH), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Marcus Molinaro (R-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Katie Porter (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Morgan McGarvey (D-KY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Deborah Ross (D-NC), Danny Davis (D-IL), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Don Bacon (R-NE), Nikki Budzinski (D-IL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Linda T Sánchez (D-CA), Kevin Mullin (D-CA), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Eric Swallwell (D-CA), Colin Allred (D-TX), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Mark Takano (D-CA), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), John Garamendi (D-CA), Glenn Ivey (D-MD), Melanie Stansbury (D-NM), Chris Deluzio (D-PA), Frank Mrvan (D-IN), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Val Hoyle (D-OR), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Don Beyer (D-VA), Mike Lawler (R-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Robert Garcia (D-CA), Dan Goldman (D-NY), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), and Greg Casar (D-TX).

This legislation is supported by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); American Federation of Teachers (AFT); Communications Workers of America (CWA); International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Transport Workers Union of America (TWU); International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM); International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers; United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW); United Steelworkers (USW); International Union of Painters & Allied Trades (IUPAT); Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU); International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE); Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE); International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO.

“The Teamsters are proud to endorse the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, guaranteeing all public sector workers the right to organize and join a union, and this bill establishes a standard that states must meet,” said Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien.  “These are the workers that make our cities and states run and we owe it to them to protect their right to organize and ensure they have a safe and dignified environment where they work.”

“Our communities are safer, healthier, and stronger when public service workers – educators, state and local government employees and others – have the freedom to bargain for family-sustaining wages, good healthcare, and the ability to retire securely. When unions bargain, they don’t just bargain for their members, they bargain for the common good, and for real solutions that address the real issues that impact all of us every day, whether it’s putting food on the table or putting our kids through college. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would make sure that an educator in Louisiana has the same right to bargain as a scientist working in New Hampshire, because the right to advocate for a better life should not depend on the state where you live. This bill ensures that workers can protect their voice on the job, which helps them advocate for themselves, their families, and the people they serve,” said Randi Weingarten, President of AFT.

The full text of the bill is available here.