Labor

House Democrats reintroduce bill to empower public sector unions

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House Democrats on Tuesday reintroduced a bill to expand the right of government workers to unionize, a key priority for President Biden and prominent labor groups. 

The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, led by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), would prohibit states and localities from preventing government workers from organizing. Democrats first introduced the bill in 2018 following a landmark Supreme Court ruling that blocked public sector unions from collecting dues from non-members, who unions are required to represent. 

“As anti-worker forces continue to chip away at worker protections in the courts, it’s time to ensure collective bargaining rights for the millions of public servants across this nation,” Cartwright said in a statement.

Public sector employees are barred from collective bargaining in about half of U.S. states. Nearly 35 percent of government workers belong to a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Like all working people in this country, public service workers deserve the right to stand together with their coworkers in a union, to bargain together for safer and fairer working conditions,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said Tuesday.

Lawmakers introduced the bill as thousands of workers at John Deere, Kelloggs and other companies go on strike for better pay and safer working conditions. Labor leaders said Tuesday that government employees such as teachers, nurses and sanitation workers have been dealing with the same pandemic-induced burnout and dangerous working environments. 

“Throughout the pandemic, public service workers have been on the front lines, risking their health and safety to protect their neighbors. For all their service and sacrifice, they deserve the freedom to form a union and negotiate for pay and working conditions without interference, if a majority of employees chooses to do so,” Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said in a statement.

The public sector union bill has more than 150 cosponsors in the House. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) are the only Republicans backing the measure. 

President Biden has called on Congress to pass the bill alongside the PRO Act, sweeping pro-labor legislation that would empower private sector workers to organize. Republicans in the Senate have previously vowed to block both bills. 

–Updated on Wednesday at 3:35 p.m.

Tags AFL-CIO American Federation of State Brian Fitzpatrick Chris Smith County and Municipal Employees Joe Biden Labor Matt Cartwright Public Sector Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act strikes Union

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