States Take on Collective Bargaining
By Jennifer Burnett, CSG Senior Research Analyst
and Jennifer Horne, CSG Associate Director of Policy and Special Libraries
For almost two weeks, the Wisconsin Capitol has been filled with thousands of demonstrators protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to largely eliminate collective bargaining for public employees.
Specifically, Walker’s proposed budget-repair bill would require most state, local and school employees to pay half their pension costs (5.8 percent for state workers) and at least 12 percent of their health care costs. It also would repeal most of the bargaining rights currently held by public workers, excluding police, firefighters and state troopers. Under the proposal, public workers would only be allowed to bargain on wages, but raises would be capped. In addition, public employees would no longer be required to make payments to unions, and unions would have to hold annual elections to remain in existence.
Wisconsin was the first state to offer its public employees collective bargaining rights, more than 50 years ago.
Walker and state Republicans argue that collective bargaining for public-sector workers must be eliminated to tackle the $3.6 billion deficit the state faces in the next budget cycle. For their part, public workers have agreed to the financial concessions regarding their pension and health care costs, but continue to fight the loss of collective bargaining rights, calling it union busting.
The Wisconsin Assembly passed the bill last Friday, but Senate Democrats have left the state to prevent action on the measure. Republicans control the Senate 19-14, but 20 senators must be present to pass spending bills.
The stalemate continues; as neither Gov. Walker nor the Senate Democrats seem ready to back down.
Wisconsin is not the only state considering legislation targeting public sector unions.Demonstrations by public workers and their supporters have been occurring in state capitols across the country.
In Iowa and Ohio, protestors object to proposed measures that limit the power public employees have to collectively bargain for wages, benefits or working conditions.
A committee plans to vote today on proposed legislation in the Ohio Senate (Senate Bill 5 ) that would have abolished most collective bargaining rights for state workers, teachers, police and other public employees. In the face of growing protests, however, the bill is expected to be amended. The revised legislation would allow unions to negotiate on wages only and prohibit strikes by public employees.
An Iowa House committee has passed a bill (House Study Bill 117) to remove health insurance and layoff procedures from the items that must be negotiated under the state’s collective bargaining laws for public employees. Bargaining for wages, working conditions and vacation time would still be allowed. The House is expected to pass the bill, but it is uncertain if the Democratic-controlled Senate will take up the bill.
In Michigan, several pending bills address issues related to public employees. House Bill 4205 would repeal binding arbitration for police and firefighters, while House Bill 4226 would repeal the state’s prevailing wage law that requires union-scale pay for all public construction projects. The state’s current prevailing wage law covers construction workers employed on state-financed or sponsored construction projects and establishes rates of pay for those construction workers based on collectively bargained agreements. SB 120 would allow counties and local governments to create so-called “right-to-work” zones, in which employers would be prohibited from requiring workers to be union members as a condition of employment.
Gov. Rick Snyder has said the bills are not high priorities for him. The governor does, however, support a proposal (House Bill 4214) that would give additional power to emergency financial managers appointed to assist schools and cities in fiscal trouble, including the right to terminate union contracts.
In Tennessee, the Senate Education Committee voted last week to deny teachers the right to negotiate through collective bargaining with boards of education regarding working conditions. The bill will now move to the General Assembly, where the House has not yet scheduled a vote.
The right of public sector employees to collectively bargain varies widely by state. According to Richard Hurd, professor of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, approximately half of all states offer what he calls comprehensive collective bargaining rights to its public sector members. The other half can be broken down into three categories.
“One-third either explicitly prohibits bargaining or has no law on the books,” he said. “Another third allow bargaining for a very narrow subset, such as teachers or public safety workers. The final third allow bargaining for a reasonable or significant group of workers.”
In addition, who can bargain and what workers can bargain about varies significantly from state to state, Hurd said. Most public workers, however, are not permitted to strike, and those who can can do so only under very limited circumstances.
CAN WE DO THIS AS A LINKED SIDEBAR?
Trends in Union Membership
For the first time, workers in the public sector now represent a greater percentage of total union members than workers in the private sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Unions now represent 7.6 million public-sector employees, compared with 7.1 million in the private sector. Of those 7.6 million public sector workers, nearly 2 million are state government employees.
Although both sectors experienced a drop in the percentage of union membership, the switch in majority is primarily due to the fact that declines in private sector union membership has far outpaced public-sector union membership declines.
“The public-sector union landscape has been pretty stable since the 1980s, but the private sector union density has been cut by almost 75 percent in the past 25 years,” said Richard Hurd, professor of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. Private sector membership dropped from 7.6 percent of union members in 2009 to 7.2 percent in 2010, largely due to high unemployment in traditionally heavily unionized industries like construction and manufacturing. For example, in 2010, the number of jobs in the construction industry dropped by 900,000 to 5.9 million. Factory jobs declined even faster—losing 1.3 million in 2010.
In 2009, 37.4 percent of public-sector workers belonged to a union, which fell to 36.2 percent in 2010. In the public sector, local governments are the most heavily unionized, with 43.3 percent of the 11 million local workers belonging to a union. State government members make up the second largest group, with approximately 2 million union employees representing 32.2 percent of all state wage and salary workers. Federal workers make up the rest, with a unionized work force of 26.8 percent.
*Figures listed are wage and salary earning total public sector employees that are union members, percent of federal employees that are union members, percent of state public employees that are union members and percent of local public employees that are union members.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics