Rep. Cartwright Introduces Bill to Improve Conditions for All Public Workers
Washington, DC – On Wednesday, Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Rep. Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Rep. Frederica Wilson (FL-24), and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) introduced legislation to protect the rights of public sector employees across the nation and ensure their fair treatment at the workplace.
The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act will establish the right of every public sector employee to join a union and bargain collectively. It empowers the Federal Labor Relations Authority to ensure that state and local government employees are treated fairly and that workplace conditions meet a proper standard, something that every employee deserves whether they choose to join a union or not.
“This legislation will help teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public employees who are vital to our American way of life,” said Congressman Cartwright. “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.”
Specifically, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would require public employers to recognize their employees’ union and to commit to any agreements in a written contract. It would enshrine public workers’ rights to join a union and collectively bargain over wages, hours, and employment terms and conditions; and provide public workers with access to dispute resolution devices, such as arbitration and mediation. The bill would also prevent rigged union recertification elections.
“Public service workers provide critical services to our communities but are often significantly underpaid. School teachers are a prime example of this. The wage stagnation they have experienced is among the worst of any profession and from 1996 to 2015, their weekly pay has dropped by $30. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would be an important step toward addressing this and other indefensible disparities by empowering public service workers and recognizing their right to collective bargaining,” said Congresswoman Wilson, Chair of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions. “As a former public-school teacher, I experienced firsthand the positive impact of union membership. Unions give workers a seat at the table when important decisions are being made on key issues like wages, work hours, and terms and conditions of employment. This representation has tangible impacts on the well-being of public service workers and their families and I urge all my colleagues to join me in support of this bill.”
“In 2017, Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature went after our working families and gutted the collective bargaining rights of our state employees,” said Congresswoman Finkenauer. “We’ve seen safety compromised, major staffing cuts, and burdensome recertification requirements rigged against working people. Hardworking Iowans need to know that their safety and their ability to provide for their families are never up for debate. They step up for their families and fellow Iowans every single day. I’m proud to sponsor this legislation to make sure that this never happens again.”
“Union workers receive higher pay, greater access to paid sick leave, and better medical and retirement benefits compared to non-union workers,” said Congressman Scott, Chair of the Committee on Education and Labor. “One year after the Supreme Court discarded four decades of precedent to dismantle the rights of public sector unions, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would guarantee that public service employees can negotiate for fair wages and working conditions. This bill recognizes that unions are critical to rebuilding America’s middle class.”
This legislation is being introduced the week of the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, in which four decades of legal precedent were ignored to undermine the ability of public sector workers to negotiate for better pay and safer workplaces. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that non-union public workers were not obligated to pay ‘fair share’ fees which covered collective bargaining costs. The 2018 ruling was widely criticized by unions across the country, given its devastating effects on the rights of workers to collectively bargain for better workplace conditions.
The bill’s Senate companion is being introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, and Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington.
“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.”