The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act provides public-sector workers the right to join in union and collectively bargain

In February 2018, teachers went on a statewide strike in West Virginia to demand just wages and better teaching and learning conditions. For nine days, schools across the state were closed as teachers, students, and community supporters protested at the state capital against the state government’s chronic underfunding of public education and the impact on the teachers and students. After a week and a half of striking, the West Virginia teachers received a pay increase, but more importantly, they sparked a movement that prompted public school teachers across the nation to strike in support for fairer pay and better working conditions.

The teachers in West Virginia and across the nation relied on the solidarity and support from their communities to win these fights, because in many states public-sector workers do not have the right to collectively bargain. Under current federal law, public-service workers do not have the freedom to join in union and collectively bargaining for fair pay, hours, or working conditions. There are more than two dozen states with laws that protect public-service workers’ right to join unions, but dozens more have lack any rights. Last year, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 overturned 40 years of precedent by barring unions from requiring workers who benefit from union representation to pay their fair share of that representation. And states continue to perpetrate the assault on public-service employees by either denying or undermining workers’ ability to act collectively in addressing workplace issues.

Yesterday, Representative Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) and Senator Maize Hirono (DHawaii) introduced the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019, which would require states to provide public-service workers the freedom to join in union and collectively bargain. The bill would also address the issue of fair share fees in the Janus decision by authorizing the voluntary deduction of fees to support the union. Ultimately, the bill would provide 17.3 million public employees a national standard of bargaining rights. This includes the teachers, police officers, and sanitation workers who provide critical services to our communities every day.

Unions enable working people to come together and ensure that workers are paid fairly and treated with dignity on the job. As a result, unions improve wages and benefits for all workers, not just union members. In order to create an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few, it is important that workers have the freedom to join a union. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would provide that right to public-sector employees nationally.