State & Local Government Employee Labor Laws

Instructor: Beth Loy

Dr. Loy has a Ph.D. in Resource Economics; master's degrees in economics, human resources, and safety; and has taught masters and doctorate level courses in statistics, research methods, economics, and management.

This lesson explains how state and local government employees have been affected by union-related labor laws. It also gives examples of how policies, statutes, executive orders, and ordinances can impact or be impacted by unions.

How Labor Laws Have Affected State And Local Employees

Let's begin by finding out about Sam. Sam was a state employee in Massachusetts in 1959. He worked for the state's Department of Transportation. Sam felt that he was unjustly passed over for a promotion and wants to unionize state employees so this doesn't happen to others. What are his chances in being successful?

State and local unionization was significantly restricted until the 1960s. For example, strikes and collective bargaining had been strictly forbidden. So, there wasn't a legal way for Sam to strike or even be heard. At that time, federal governments started to make headway in organizing and using the collective bargaining process to get higher wages, more benefits, and compulsory arbitration. Laws were passed to forbid strikes by federal workers, but those same laws also required collective bargaining between labor and management. Sam thought, as did others, if the federal government could unionize, why couldn't the states and local governments?

The legislation passed to address unionization in the federal sector paved the way for state and local government employees to unionize. In 1962, Executive Order 10988 was signed by President Kennedy. This Order gave workers the right to become a union member and engage in collective bargaining, but forbid striking. Kennedy's Order was just what Sam's movement needed. It facilitated the movement of federal employees to organize, even though they were restricted in bargaining and forbidden from striking.

State and local laws followed. Depending on the state, laws allowed different levels of collective bargaining and arbitration. For example, Massachusetts passed a law in 1958 to allow unionization in state and local governments, but bargaining was restricted. So, Sam got what he wanted, but the union didn't have much pull. This was just the beginning though.

Massachusetts, more than any other state, began to push forward with labor rights. In 1964, collective bargaining related to working conditions was required. In 1965, the collective bargaining requirement was extended to wages. Moving on to 1974, compulsory arbitration, when labor and management are in a dispute, was passed. Even following this, the legislature expanded the dispute resolution process to include labor-management committees to assist with resolving conflicts. This is what Sam and other employees needed. They now had the ability to collectively bargain and a way to resolve a dispute.

Many states mimicked Massachusetts and passed laws supporting collective bargaining, union election procedures, and dispute resolution. Unions in the public sector attempted to copy those in the private sector. The Democratic Party and the popularity of teachers stimulated unionism. Even with limitations on striking, unions remain quite political. They have very powerful lobbying contingencies that can make or break a candidate's political run. This is quite an incentive for politicians to be union-friendly and garner union endorsements.

Union Influences

Today, public sector unions in state and local governments have been affected by not only executive orders and labor laws, but also by policies, statutes, and ordinances. Let's take tax policy as an example. Public unions in California have negotiated large pensions for state workers. In the process, the pension fund takes a large percentage of tax revenue, which means it's difficult for the state to implement cost-cutting measures. Policies can be influenced by unions as well as affected.

Another example is state right-to-work laws, which are statutes that give employees the right to work without being a member of a union. In these states, there cannot be any agreements between labor and management to collect union dues or engage in union security agreements. Having union-friendly officials in these states may have lowered the chances of this type of legislation passing.

And, there are ordinances, legislation that is passed by municipalities, that have affected unionization. In Milwaukee, for example, voters passed an ordinance in 2008 that required city businesses with 10 or more employees up to 9 sick days per calendar year. Unions had pushed for the measure and even backed political candidates that would pass the measure. Unions saw this as a huge victory, and it became fodder for increase membership rates and other municipalities. We can see how unions can impact local legislation.

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