Public employees in New York state have the right to be represented by unions and to bargain collectively with their employers for salary, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. This right should not be taken lightly. It did not exist in New York until the Legislature enacted the Taylor Law in 1967, and it does not exist today for school employees in 18 other states. Private-sector members are covered under the National Labor Relations Act, which likewise gives private-sector members the right to be organized, represented and to bargain collectively.
Before the Taylor Law was enacted, public employees in New York had no collective bargaining rights. Under the Condon-Wadlin Act, a 1947 law that the Taylor Law replaced, striking public employees were penalized by being fired. They could only be reinstated under a three-year pay freeze and five-year probation. The Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act (Taylor Law) was enacted in 1967 following a series of public-sector strikes, including the 12-day New York City transit strike a year earlier. The state Legislature granted amnesty to the striking employees, and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller appointed a committee to recommend legislation regarding public-sector employee rights. The result was the Taylor Law. Its provisions include:
- The right of public employees to organize and bargain collectively with their employers;
- The right to representation by employee organizations (unions) of their own choosing;
- The requirement that public employers (including school districts) negotiate with their employees and enter into written agreements (contracts) with their employees’ chosen representatives;
- Procedures for resolution of contract disputes (impasses);
- Prohibition of improper labor practices by either side;
- Creation of the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to administer the law; and
- The requirement that bargaining unit members who choose not to join a union pay an agency fee, and that use of the fee for political and ideological purposes only incidentally related to bargaining to which the agency fee payer objects is subject to a rebate procedure.
While the Taylor Law grants public employees the right to collective bargaining, it denies them the right to strike. The penalties for striking are loss of pay for each day the employee is on strike, plus a fine of an additional day’s pay for every day on strike and potential discipline for misconduct.
NYSUT is always working to win legislation to improve the provisions of the Taylor Law. For exam- ple, a 1982 amendment mandated that if a collec- tive bargaining agreement expires, its terms and con- ditions continue until a new agreement takes effect. That amendment has helped thousands of members avoid hardships when negotiations are impeded by harsh economic conditions, recalcitrant employers or both. An earlier improvement eliminated the “probation penalty” (probation for one year) against tenured teachers who went on strike.