All Public Sector Workers Deserve the Right to Collectively Bargain

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Public sector workers in states with greater collective bargaining rights come closer to reaching the wages of those in the private sector than those in states that infringe on their ability to join together and negotiate, a new report says.

The updated document from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that teachers and school staff, bus drivers, firefighters, police and other local government workers – many of whom are women and/or people of color – benefit from having strong unions that represent them and their interests on the job. In other states that curtail public sector collective bargaining, however, larger wage gaps persist.

“The pay gap is especially large among workers with a bachelor’s degree or more education, who make up the majority of public sector workers,” the report states. “Though public sector workers have more generous benefits, these benefits do not make up for lower wages and salaries for most workers.”

EPI argues that addressing the public-sector pay gap is critical for local governments facing acute, growing staffing shortages. Unions, it says, help reduce inequality, promote social mobility and advocate for better public services.

Some states are seeking to improve the situation for public sector workers. Virginia, for example, took a step last year when it approved legislation allowing localities to bargain with unions representing local government workers if they wanted. But Colorado is aiming higher, as lawmakers there consider a bill that would extend bargaining rights to local government workers, the same rights given to state workers in 2020.

Ultimately, however, this is a problem that really needs a federal fix. That’s why it is essential that the House take up the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. The measure would guarantee that every public service employee in every state has the freedom to stand together and negotiate for fair wages and working conditions.

The bill sets a minimum nationwide standard for collective bargaining rights that all states must provide to public sector workers. Among these standards, public employers are required to recognize employees’ labor unions that are freely chosen by a majority of the employees voting and to bargain with the labor organization over wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.

The measure would offer states wide flexibility to write and administer their own labor laws that are tailored to the unique needs of their workforce, as long as they meet the minimum standards.

It’s time for all public sector workers to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve!