The New York Times

March 31, 2006

New York Labor Leaders Criticize Anti-Strike Law


With the consequences of a state law that bars strikes by public employees still resonating after the transit strike in December, labor leaders appeared at City Hall yesterday to condemn the law as unfair to workers and an impediment to collective bargaining.

The Taylor Law, as it has been known since it took effect in 1967, has long been a thorn in the side of public employee unions. The law, which calls for punishing striking workers and resolving bargaining deadlocks with binding arbitration, is far beyond the control of the City Council's Committee on Civil Service and Labor, but the committee heard the labor leaders' message at a hearing yesterday nevertheless.

With the labor standoff between the city's bus and subway workers and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still unresolved, members of the Council said they hoped to underscore flaws and inequities in the law. Among the labor leaders appearing yesterday were Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, and Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., the committee chairman, said he expected yesterday's hearing to lead to another before the full City Council, which he said could exert pressure on the State Legislature and governor to revise the law.

Representatives of the state's Public Employment Relations Board, which administers the Taylor Law, declined invitations to attend, Mr. Addabbo said, as did members of the mayor's staff. But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's position was outlined in a letter to the committee from James F. Hanley, the city commissioner of labor relations.

"It is the administration's position that the Taylor Law has been effective over the years in helping to foster harmonious labor relations," Mr. Hanley said. "The administration would oppose any legislation that attempts to diminish or dilute the positive effects that this law has had."

But the committee testimony did not reflect harmonious labor relations. The labor leaders said the law had repeatedly given City Hall an upper hand in labor talks, provided incentives for the city to drag out negotiations years after contracts expire, and established the framework for a system of "pattern bargaining" in which all public employees are expected to accept the same terms that are accepted by a union picked out by the city to set a bargaining precedent.

"Pattern bargaining represents an example of bad faith bargaining and lazy bargaining," said Mr. Lynch, who maintained that the Taylor Law had allowed the city to avoid timely good-faith bargaining with the police union for 20 years.

"Why? The answer is simple," he said. "There is no risk to the city for not negotiating in good faith."

Mr. Lynch called for a ban on pattern bargaining and for bringing pressure on the city to speed up collective bargaining by charging it interest on money that accrues when public employees' raises are delayed.

Ms. Weingarten said the Taylor Law had provided a mechanism by which public employees routinely work for years without contracts, and by which senior city officials and negotiators can simply stay away from the bargaining table.

"The city's ability to stall without repercussions means unions have virtually no leverage," she said. And when disputes are ultimately resolved through the Taylor Law's binding arbitration procedures, she added, the state arbitrators have "ruled that the pattern must prevail" and workers must accept the terms set by another union.

The bitter and unresolved dispute between Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority provides a good recent example of how the Taylor Law works. Under provisions of the law, the union has been ordered to pay $3 million in fines, and individual members are being assessed two days' pay for each of the three days they were on strike.

The Public Employee Relations Board ordered arbitration in the dispute last week, though it did not set a date for arbitration to begin. That order followed a tumultuous series of failed talks, a seven-vote defeat of a contract proposal recommended by the union, and efforts by the union to organize a second vote on the same terms.

But since the contract was voted down, the transportation authority has said its proposal is off the table, and that the matter is suitable for arbitration, even though the Taylor Law allows direct negotiations and a settlement at any time before arbitration takes place.