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Rep. Cartwright, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen Public Workers’ Organizing Rights

Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act Guarantees Public Sector Workers’ Rights to Organize After Devastating 2018 Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court Decision

Today, U.S. Representatives Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Frederica Wilson (FL-24) introduced the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, bipartisan legislation to establish in law the right of public sector employees to join a union and bargain collectively.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME to overturn more than 40 years of legal precedent and strip public employee unions of their ability to collect fees for representation they are legally required to provide workers. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would help to level the playing field for those essential workers by establishing a minimum standard of collective bargaining rights that states and localities must provide. Roughly half of all states deny public sector workers – the same everyday heroes who kept our communities safe and running through the pandemic – the freedom to collectively bargain for better wages, safe working conditions and more.

During a press conference today, Rep. Cartwright, labor leaders and workers highlighted how the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act protects and expands the right of public employees to join unions and engage in collective bargaining that improves their lives and the communities they serve.

“Public workers serve their communities as state and local government employees, teachers, health care workers and more. These hardworking Americans deserve the right to stand together and fight for fair pay, good benefits and safe conditions,” said Rep. Cartwright. “As anti-worker forces continue to chip away at worker protections in the courts, it’s time to ensure collective bargaining rights for the millions of public servants across this nation.”

“Health care workers, school employees, corrections officers, sanitation workers, behavioral health professionals and many more – they have stood fearlessly on the front lines to protect their neighbors from this pandemic. They have answered the call – even if it meant exposing themselves and their families to risk,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. “For all their service and sacrifice, they deserve the freedom to negotiate – to sit down with management, discuss terms of employment, and hammer out a fair contract. But in roughly half the states in the country, that’s not the case...The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would fix that – establishing a minimum standard of collective bargaining rights that all states must provide to their public employees.” 

“We’re having a moment in the country right now. #Striketober. Workers are not going to put up with poverty wages, little to no benefits and they’re not going to risk their lives when there’s a lack of safety protections on the job. Passing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act will make sure working people in the public sector have good, sustainable jobs. That’s good for working people and the communities they serve,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler.

“Throughout the ongoing COVID crisis and long before, our public sector employees have stepped up to provide our communities with the services they needed,” said American Federation of Teachers Secretary Treasurer Fedrick Ingram. “The state you live in should not dictate whether or not public service workers have a voice on the job, and a say in their working conditions, pay and benefits. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act puts a federal law on the books that ensures that right, which in turn results in higher quality public services for our families and communities. We must fight for the passage of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act to empower public service workers by ensuring their collective voices are heard.”

“Every day, America’s educators go above and beyond to help all students – Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike – thrive. Educators use their collective voice to advocate for stronger public schools to help ensure their students’ social, emotional, and academic learning needs are addressed. But across the nation, some politicians are attacking educators and their unions to distract from the fact that those same politicians have failed to ensure our public schools have the resources needed to help educators keep students safe, focused, and inspired. That is why Congress must pass the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act to help level the playing field for working families and empower educators to better advocate for their students,” said National Education Association President Becky Pringle.

“For more than ten years, my coworkers and I have fought for the right to a union and the right to collectively bargain over wages, benefits, and working conditions in Loudoun County, Virginia--the wealthiest county in the country. Despite low wages, lack of benefits, and difficult working conditions, we show up to provide the services that our communities rely on every day. Public service employees deserve to be respected, protected and paid a living wage. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to pass the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. We deserve dignity and a voice in the workplace and it shouldn’t take more than ten years for us to get it,” said Julius Reynolds, Juvenile Probation Officer and Chair of the Loudoun County Chapter, SEIU Virginia 512.

The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act is led by Rep. Cartwright, and lead co-sponsors are Reps. Mark Pocan (WI-02), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Frederica Wilson (FL-24). In total, the legislation was introduced with more than 150 co-sponsors, both Democratic and Republican.

“Public workers deserve the same right to unionize and collectively bargain as everyone else, regardless of the state they’re in,” said Rep. Pocan. “This important bill will ensure that all public employees have the right to advocate for themselves, reversing the decades long state assault on public workers’ rights and the wrongfully decided 2018 Supreme Court case.”

“The benefits of being in a labor union are indisputable – they allow workers to go to their jobs and be well-paid, safe, and protected against unfair practices by their employers. It is fundamentally unfair that public sector workers who are on the front lines are not guaranteed these same protections. I am proud to help lead this effort to finally allow millions of public servants across the country to have the right to create and join unions. These teachers, fire fighters, health care workers, and local government employees spend their careers supporting and protecting the public, and we should do the same for them,” said Rep. DeSaulnier, Chair of the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee of the Education and Labor Committee.

Key Measures of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act

Where states fail to provide basic collective bargaining rights for public sector employees, this bill empowers the Federal Labor Relations Authority to protect the rights of state, territorial, and local government employees:

  • To form, join, or assist unions, to bargain collectively, and to join together to engage in other activities to improve their working conditions;
  • To have their union recognized by their public employer through democratic procedures;
  • To have a procedure for resolving impasses in collective bargaining; and
  • To authorize the deduction of fees to support the union to the extent permitted by law.

A section-by-section summary is HERE. Bill text is HERE.

This legislation is endorsed by AFL-CIO, AFSCME, AFT, NEA, SEIU, Communications Workers of America (CWA), International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) and Transport Workers Union (TWU).