WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and Cory Booker today joined their Democratic colleagues in introducing bicameral legislation that 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.

“We must protect the right of federal workers to collectively bargain in order to give them a fighting chance in negotiations with their employers,” Sen. Menendez said. “The right to unionize has ensured that hardworking individuals in New Jersey and across the country are able to fight for fair wages, safe working conditions and quality health care coverage. While Republicans fight to turn back time, we must remember that teachers, police officers, laborers and nurses helped build the middle class and this legislation will protect their right to organize and help grow a stronger America.”

“A strong, fair economy is built on the strength of its workers,” Sen. Booker said. “For generations, the right to organize has empowered American workers and ushered millions into the middle class. Nearly a year after the Supreme Court’s outright attack on this right, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would reaffirm the ability of New Jersey’s public sector employees to fight for safe workplaces and livable wages.”

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.

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, 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.

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.

The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), 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.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), 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.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), 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.