Tailoring the Taylor Law: Restoring a Balance of Power to Bargaining

Article excerpt

In December 2005, 34,000 New York City transit workers went on strike following the breakdown of contract negotiations with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ("MTA") over retirement, pension, and wage increases. The strike lasted only sixty hours but captured substantial media and political attention in a city that had not seen a transit strike since 1980. The striking workers and their union, the Transport Workers Union ("TWU") were penalized under New York State's Taylor Law. The Taylor Law prohibits public sector strikes on the grounds that health and safety will be jeopardized if police, firefighters, sanitation workers, civil service workers, teachers, and others in the public employ have the right to stop working. By depriving workers of the ability to strike, however, the Taylor Law disrupts the very balance of bargaining power it purports to establish. It allows employers to be recalcitrant in their bargaining without fear of repercussion, and deprives workers of their most potent bargaining tool. Strike deterrence is achieved, but to the detriment of workers and the bargaining process itself. This Note proposes two ways to reform the Taylor Law and restore a balance of power to negotiations, while maintaining the public order. First, the ban on public sector strikes should be limited to only those workers who perform "essential services" as defined by the International Labour Organization ("ILO"). Second, the Taylor Law's requirement that parties bargain in good faith should be enforced so that it is truly meaningful.

I. INTRODUCTION

In December 2005, nearly 34,000 members of the Transport Workers Union, Local 100 ("TWU") went on strike after contract negotiations over retirement, pension, and wage increases with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ("MTA") broke down.1 Most transit workers observed the strike, effectively halting all subway and bus service for sixty hours and affecting millions of commuters.2 This was the third ever strike against New York City's Transit Authority, and the first since 1980.3 Although the strike was short lived, it had lasting repercussions on relations between the MTA and the TWU.4 It also renewed calls to reform the Taylor Law, the principal law regulating labor relations in New York State.5

The Taylor Law applies to most public employees within New York State, whether they work for the state or for counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts, public authorities, or certain special service districts.6 It grants public employees the right to organize and to be represented by the employee organizations of their choice, and requires public employers to negotiate and enter into agreements with these organizations regarding the terms and conditions of their employment.7 It establishes procedures for the resolution of impasses in collective bargaining disputes and creates a state agency, the Public Employment Relations Board ("PERB"), to administer the law.8 But the Taylor Law is best known for its prohibition on strikes by public employees - an aspect of the law that has been controversial since its implementation in 1967.9

The penalties the Taylor Law establishes for a striking union are severe. A striking union faces suspension of its "dues checkoff," which provides for the automatic deduction of union dues from member paychecks.10 When a union is deprived of this means of support, it must set up an administrative mechanism to have funds paid directly to it or face the interruption of its day-today operations.11 In addition, the costs of direct dues collection are exacerbated by the characteristically hefty fines that unions face for violating court injunctions not to strike.12 The fine for an individual worker is twice the striking employee's salary for each day the strike lasts.13 Additionally, union leaders whose members strike in violation of the law face imprisonment.14

By effectively depriving public sector workers of their most potent bargaining tool without similarly handicapping employers, the Taylor Law tips the balance of power in negotiations, giving more bargaining clout to the employer. …

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