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Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Employees

Public employees provide vital services such as healthcare, sanitation, and education. In many states, including West Virginia, public employees have no legal framework for collective bargaining. North Carolina and Virginia explicitly ban collective bargaining for public employees. Starting with Wisconsin in 2011, and continuing with Iowa in 2017, public employee bargaining rights have been gutted. The right of public employees to collectively bargain remains endangered in numerous other states. 

The right to collectively bargain is essential for workers to improve their wages and working conditions. Collective bargaining rights also enable public workers to fight for better services for the communities they serve. Denial of collective bargaining in the southern states is a vestige of slavery and Jim Crow. 

We are proud that the Southern Workers International Justice Campaign, initiated by UE Local 150, is leading the fight to repeal the prohibition of collective bargaining in North Carolina, as well as Virginia and West Virginia. We are forging unity and solidarity between the labor movement and the civil rights movement. The work of our statewide unions, with their multi-racial membership and leadership, represents a powerful weapon for social progress. 

The most vicious attack on public sector collective bargaining yet occurred this year in Iowa. The Republican governor and legislature were ruthless in their attempts to bankrupt and dismantle the public-sector unions in Iowa. The attack itself was funded by outside sources (the Koch brothers) with a specific aim to rid the state of the unions who are able to organize and mobilize their members and their community. The governor and legislature in Iowa were successful in banning dues checkoff and eliminating all but one mandatory topic of bargaining, wages, for the non-safety bargaining units.  Even there, unions are limited to negotiating a 3 percent wage increase each year or the current CPI, whichever is the lesser.  UE’s Iowa members did not take this assault on their union rights sitting down. Our members emailed, called, and visited their legislators in the communities at town halls, the capitol in Des Moines, and at their homes.  They also participated in rallies at the capitol and public hearings. 

Public-sector collective bargaining rights were won through struggle.  In the 1970s a series of strikes happened across the country at federal, state, and local levels.  These strikers had no legal protection, and could have been terminated for their participation, but worker unity was strong enough to protect their jobs.  Ultimately, public officials decided to “tame” the ferocity of public employees through the offering of collective bargaining rights — usually in exchange for a ban on strikes and forcing workers through legalistic methods of contract settlement such as arbitration.  Although the public-sector labor movement was able to ride on its success for two generations, the new assault began because public officials are no longer fearful of what public employees may do.  In order to restore what rights have been lost, and to bring them to states where they were never won, worker power must be a credible threat to the employer — we must return to a period of widespread workplace agitation.  

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 75th UE CONVENTION:

  1. Calls for the union at all levels to initiate campaigns for public-employee collective bargaining rights which will gain these rights in states where we lack them, retain and strengthen them in states where they exist, including the right to strike, and restore them where they have been stripped away;
  2. Demands that the states of North Carolina and Virginia repeal their bans on collective bargaining;
  3. Demands that the state of Iowa reverse it’s 2017 changes to collective bargaining law;
  4. Supports the Southern Workers Assembly in its call to organize the South;
  5. Supports the Southern Workers International Justice Campaign;
  6. Supports the education of elected officials and the general public regarding the need for collective bargaining for public employees;
  7. Supports work at the international level challenging the violation of public workers’ rights;
  8. Calls on locals to mobilize in support of candidates for elected office who will restore and improve collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees.