Legislation before Congress would require almost all state and
local governments to recognize public sector unions as the
exclusive representative of their public safety employees.
Supporters contend that the Public Safety Employer-Employee
Cooperation Act (H.R. 980) would lead to increased cooperation
between public safety workers and the government. In fact, most
public safety employees already belong to unions. Experience
suggests that collective bargaining would not further cooperation
but that it would impose a large unfunded mandate on the states.
Congress exempts federal public safety employees from collective
bargaining requirements, and it should continue to allow state and
local governments to do likewise if they see fit.
Most Already Belong to Unions
H.R. 980 would require almost every state and local government
to collectively bargain with public safety employees (policemen,
firefighters, and emergency medical personnel). It would override
local decision-making and force many states and localities to adopt
a model they have determined to be inappropriate.
The legislation is also a solution in search of a problem.
Thirty-four states already have collective bargaining for both
police and firefighters. Four states extend collective bargaining
privileges to firefighters but not police officers. In states without
laws mandating collective bargaining, some local governments
nonetheless do so. Other states authorize public employers to
voluntarily recognize collective bargaining agreements, but do not
Consequently, large majorities of public safety employees
already collectively bargain. In fact, 58.7 percent of police
officers and sheriffs' patrol officers and 70.3 percent of
firefighters are covered by collective bargaining agreements.
Fomenting Conflict, Not
Experience demonstrates that collective bargaining does not lead
to increased cooperation between public safety employees and their
employers. The process is inherently adversarial. Pitting employees
and employers against each other at the bargaining table creates as
much conflict as cooperation.
Public sector employees will often strike when the law
explicitly forbids it, putting vital public services at risk. In
September 2006, Detroit public school teachers went on strike.
Despite a court order telling them to return to work, hundreds of
thousands of students started the school year late. In December
2005, an illegal strike by transit workers paralyzed New York City
during the busiest shopping days of the year.
Collective bargaining creates strife even when workers do not
strike. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has fought
contentiously with the federal government to raise salaries to
$200,000 a year.
An Unfunded Mandate
H.R. 980 would impose a substantial unfunded mandate on state
and local governments. A union's monopoly over bargaining makes it
a cartel that prevents employers from hiring workers who would do
the same job for less than union wages. That benefits union members
at the expense of their potential competitors. It also means that
state and local governments must pay more to have the same work
done. Without providing financing for the mandate, the act will
force these governments to either cut services or raise taxes.
Congress Exempts Itself
The government should promote public safety employees on the
basis of merit and ability, not union seniority. Inflexible
regulations that are designed to benefit union members sometimes
stand in the way of the public good.
Curiously, Congress gives itself the same flexibility in dealing
with public safety employees that H.R. 980 would deny to local
governments. Federal national security workers cannot collectively
bargain. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 explicitly prohibits
CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, and Secret Service employees
from collective bargaining. Subsequent executive orders have
extended this prohibition to many more national security-related
agencies. Congress should not deny state and local governments the
flexibility to decide for themselves whether or not collective
bargaining would interfere with their duty to protect the
H.R. 980 is a solution in search of a problem. Most states
already require or allow public safety employees to collectively
bargain, and large majorities of police officers and firefighters
already belong to unions. Furthermore, collective bargaining does
not necessarily lead to a more cooperative workplace. H.R. 980
would impose a large unfunded mandate on state and local
governments that do not currently use collective bargaining. The
exemption for certain federal employees shows that Congress
recognizes the need for flexibility in some areas. It should not
take away the ability of state and local governments to choose to
collectively bargain or not, depending on their local
Sherk is Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy in the
Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.
 R. Theodore Clark,
Jr., Partner, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, "Testimony Before the Committee
on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives," June 5,
2007, at /static/reportimages/DF8AB2271CD54C92E945AFB0F1B0FF70.pdf.
These states are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware,
Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine,
Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana,
Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North
Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South
Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
 Ibid. These
states are Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, and Wyoming
 Barry Hirsch and
David MacPherson, "V. Occupation: Union Membership, Coverage,
Density, and Employment by Occupation, 2006," Union Membership and
Coverage Database from the CPS, at http://www.trinity.edu/bhirsch/unionstats.