Washington Outlook

Mandatory Public Sector Collective Bargaining Subject of House Hearing

By Larry Jones & Roger Dahl 
May 15, 2000

On Tuesday, May 9, the House subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations, Chaired by John Boehner (R-OH) conducted a hearing on H.R. 1093, "The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act." The bill's stated purpose is to "provide collective bargaining rights for public safety officers employed by States or their political subdivisions."

In testimony supported by The U.S. Conference of Mayors and other public interest groups opposing the bill, Chicago attorney R. Theodore Clark, Jr. told the Subcommittee that the bill "is predicated on the apparent assumption that federally mandated solutions in the labor relations area are better than those arrived at by state and local governments. The needs of state and local government in the employer-employee relations, however, can be best determined on state and local basis rather than by resort to federal legislation."

The bill would set minimum standards for collective bargaining and those states failing to meet the standards would have to comply with the provisions of the bill, should it become law. The bill had 240 cosponsors at last count and covers firefighters, paramedics who work in a fire department and law enforcement personnel. Administration of the law would be handled by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which administers to a rather restrictive "collective bargaining" law for federal workers.

Law Would Be Unconstitutional

In his testimony Clark argues that H.R. 1093 would be "clearly unconstitutional as applied to states and in all likelihood it would be held unconstitutional as applied to units of local government." In addition, he pointed out that H.R. 1093 "would extend to police officers and firefighters at the state and local level far more rights than police officers and firefighters employed by the federal government have."

Police Officers, Firefighters Have Considerable Political Clout

And, more specially, Clark said with respect to those "few remaining states that do not have public sector collective bargaining laws covering police officers and/or firefighters, the political judgment has presumably been made that such laws are not necessary. Clark added, "Police officers and firefighters have their First Amendment rights to petition their public employers, like all other public employees have a First Amendment right to petition their public employers. Indeed, unlike employees in the private sector, they have the right to participate in the election of their employers and to influence the decisions of those elected officials. From my travels around the country, it is my unequivocal observation that police officers, firefighters, and their unions have considerable political clout in virtually every state legislature. Even though they may not have been successful in getting a given state legislature to adopt a collective bargaining law, there are numerous instances in which they have had a significant impact on changes in pension legislation and other legislation concerning their terms and conditions of employment."

"There is Absolutely No Need for the Proposed Legislation"

Clark closed saying "given the substantial constitution and practical issues posed by H.R. 1093, coupled with the overwhelming lack of evidence of any compelling need for Congress to mandate collective bargaining for police officers and firefighters at the state and local level, Congress should not enact legislation in this sensitive area. The existence of 38 state collective bargaining laws at the state and local level covering police officers and/or firefighters, most of which go substantially beyond what Congress has deemed appropriate for police officers and firefighters employed by the federal government, demonstrates that there is absolutely no need for the proposed legislation."

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