Senators Cantwell, Murray Introduce Legislation to Strengthen Rights of Public Sector Workers to Join Unions, Bargain Collectively

state Senators stand with public sector workers, affirm their right to organize

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate labor committee, joined 34 of their Senate colleagues to introduce bicameral legislation, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019, that will guarantee the right of public employees in Washington state and across the country, to organize, act concertedly, and bargain collectively in states that currently do not afford these basic protections. There are nearly 17.3 million public workers across the country. Unlike private sector workers, there is no federal law protecting the freedom of public sector workers to join a union and collectively bargain for fair wages, benefits, and improved working conditions.

“One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court undermined 40 years of established law when it made its disappointing Janus decision,” said Senator Cantwell. “This legislation defends public sector workers by guaranteeing their right to bargain collectively.”

“Despite corporate special interests’ best efforts, a year after the Janus Supreme Court decision, union membership is still strong—because so many workers understand the importance of using their collective voices to advocate for better pay and safer working conditions,” Senator Murray said. “I’m proud to stand with workers in introducing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. Democrats are going to keep fighting for workers and their unions, because our economy only works if it works for everyone, not just those at the top.”

The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019 provides the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) with the authority to determine whether a state, territory, or locality provides public employees and supervisors the right:

  • To form, join, or assist a union, to bargain collectively, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid (including the filing of joint, class or collective legal claims) or protection;
  • To have their union recognized by their public employer if the union is freely chosen by a majority of employees, to bargain with the employer through the union, and to commit their collective-bargaining agreement to writing;
  • To be free from forced recertification elections of their already-recognized representative and decertification of their chosen representative within one year of an election or the expiration of a valid collective bargaining agreement;
  • To have a procedure for resolving impasses in collective bargaining culminating in binding arbitration; and
  • To authorize employers to deduct fees to the union from their payroll when employees consent. 

The FLRA approach gives states wide flexibility to write and administer their own labor laws provided they meet this minimum standard. If a state substantially provides for the rights and procedures laid out in the bill, that state is unaffected by this bill. However, states that do not provide for these rights or only partially provide for these rights will be compelled to meet these basic labor standards. The FLRA must issue regulations within one year of the bill becoming law and they can enforce the law through federal court. The bill also creates a private right of action to enforce compliance in federal court but only if the FLRA has not yet filed suit seeking relief for the same issue.  

Senator Cantwell has been a strong defender of workers’ rights and collective bargaining. She is a cosponsor of Senator Murray’s PRO Act and has joined a number of her Democratic Senate colleagues to defend the rights of federal workers to fair workplace representation and collective bargaining. Senator Murray has been an ardent champion of efforts to fortify and expand workers’ rights, recently introducing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act—or PRO Act—which aims to restore fairness to the economy by strengthening the federal laws that protect workers’ right to act collectively and bargain for higher wages and better benefits.

Read the text of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act HERE.