- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007


Parts of the Democratic 110th Congress’ legislative agenda are best explained as rewards to loyal patrons in Big Labor, the trial-lawyer lobby and other traditional allies. That much was true regarding the push for “card check,” which jettisons the secret union ballot so that labor unions can organize more easily. Now we have something called the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2007, which creates a federalized collective-bargaining system for state and local police, firefighters and other public safety-officers. It is actually more a Politician-Union-Labor Lawyer Cooperation Act than anything for the local fire department.

Thirty-eight states already have collective-bargaining laws on the books for public-safety employees, and well-established bargaining processes. Some have written collective bargaining into the state constitution. Some see fit to prohibit certain types of negotiations, such as those over pensions or the granting of promotions, and their laws reflect it. Most of the 12 states that do not have collective bargaining on the books nevertheless have some form of it in practice. Certainly we do not hear a great outcry for the Federal Labor Relations Authority among first-responders around the country. The diverse collection of state laws in this area seem to reflect the kind of “laboratories of democracy” that many, including ourselves, consider to be the great virtue of federalism, along with state and local control of state and local affairs.

H.R. 980 allows the Federal Labor Relations Authority to determine whether a state’s collective-bargaining arrangements are up to snuff with the bill’s, thus setting up states like New York and Wisconsin for a collision with federal authorities. It also sneaks in a significant boost for unions. It requires the FLRA to give weight to “the opinion of affected employee organizations.” In other words, not only is state law being trumped, but now, if and when a Democratic administration takes over, the unions’ word could actually be louder than the states’ depending what the FLRA decides.

Whether local police and firefighters will see better benefits and salaries under a federal system than at present is an open question. What is more certain is that states will be railroaded while unions and Washington lawyers who contribute heavily to the Democratic Party will be the big winners. It is not as if the great majority of police or firefighters are left out of modern labor relations. About 68 percent of firefighters and 58 percent of police nationwide are unionized, as compared to 8 percent of the private sector.

One of the many ironies here is that many federal employees who are arguably every bit as important to public safety as the local officers affected by this bill — those in the FBI or CIA, for example — are exempted from the usual collective-bargaining guarantees on national-security grounds. So, per this bill, flexible labor relations are quite fine in Washington, but not for the states, thank you very much.

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