The Paradox of Public Sector Labor Law
32 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2009
Date Written: August 21, 2009
Although the percentage of employees represented in collective bargaining in the public sector is more than five times the percentage in the private sector, collective bargaining for public employees remains very controversial The two most powerful arguments against public employee collective bargaining is that it is antidemocratic and that it impedes effective government. Concern with the antidemocratic effects of public sector collective bargaining leads courts and labor boards to narrow the scope of what must be negotiated. Concerns with collective bargaining impeding effective government leads to backlash by the legislative and executive branches against public employee unions.
This article contends that the narrowness of the scope of bargaining that results from concerns over the antidemocratic nature of public employee bargaining leads to public employee bargaining impeding effective government. The law of negotiability channels channels employees and their unions away from participation in and responsibility for decisions affecting the risks of the public sector enterprise and into negotiating contract provisions that protect them from those risks. Public employee unions have performed that role very effectively, so effectively that the results can impede effective government. The article examines numerous cases where, in spite of the law, public employers have involved employees and their unions in decisions affecting the risks of the enterprise with very positive results. The article urges that jurisdictions break away from the private sector model which classifies every subject as either one on which collective bargaining is mandated or which is left to the unilateral control of management and develop alternative vehicles of employee-union voice in public sector decision-making.
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