Press Release

June 26, 2019
Cardin, Van Hollen, Senate & House Democrats Introduce Legislation to Strengthen Rights of Public Sector Workers to Join Unions, Bargain Collectively

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) today joined Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), and other House and Senate Democrats in introducing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019. This legislation will guarantee the right of public employees to organize, act concertedly, and bargain collectively in states that currently do not afford these basic protections. There are nearly 17.3 million public workers across the country. Unlike private sector workers, there is 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.

“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.  Improving the pay, benefits, and working conditions for teachers and other municipal employees will improve the crucial services they provide,” Senator Cardin said. “The evisceration of unions over the past several decades is one of the leading causes of growing economic inequality. Restoring union rights and collective bargaining will make it easier for all workers – public sector and private sector alike – to rejoin the middle class.”

“The right to organize and collectively bargain is fundamentally entrenched in our democratic principles. But this right is under attack now more than ever, following the Supreme Court’s misguided Janus ruling,” Senator Van Hollen said. “Employees in Maryland and across the country should be guaranteed the ability to form unions and negotiate fair terms for their employment, regardless of where they work. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation to ensure just that, and I urge the Senate to take it up immediately.”

“One year after the harmful Janus decision, public employee unions continue to stand strong in the face of an all-out right-wing assault on working people who serve our communities,” Senator Hirono said. “Public employees are teachers, firefighters, social workers, EMTs, and police officers. We rely on them every day to educate and nurture our children and to keep our communities safe. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act will ensure that every public employee has the right to organize, act concertedly, and bargain collectively. Simply put, the bill ensures public employees have a voice in the workplace.”

“This legislation will help teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public employees who are vital to our American way of life,” Congressman Cartwright said. “As many of them struggle just to put food on the table, we must protect their ability to bargain collectively for fair pay and workplace protections. I’m proud to stand with unions and their members, who have historically ensured basic rights such as a minimum wage standard, eight-hour workdays, and employer-sponsored health insurance.”

The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019 provides 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, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act is cosponsored by Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.),  Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). There are 27 cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act is supported by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

In June 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that public sector unions are barred from charging “agency fees” to the public employees they negotiate pay increases and benefit bumps for, if those employees decline to join the union as full members. Senator Cardin spoke out against the decision.

Full text of the legislation is available here.