Public employees in New York state have the right to be represented by unions and to bargain collectively with their employers for salary, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. "This right should not be taken lightly. It was not recognized in New York until the legislature enacted the Taylor Law in 1967. Collective bargaining for school employees is currently illegal in five states; severely restricted in four states; and in 11 states, public employers are permitted to bargain with their employees — but most often do not." Private-sector members are covered under the National Labor Relations Act, which likewise establishes the right of private-sector members to organize and to bargain collectively.
The Taylor Law
Before the Taylor Law was enacted, public employees in New York had no legally recognized collective bargaining rights. Under the Condon-Wadlin Act, a 1947 law that the Taylor Law replaced, striking public employees were penalized by being fired. They could only be reinstated under a three-year pay freeze and five-year probation. The Public Employees' Fair Employment Act (Taylor Law) was enacted in 1967 following a series of public-sector strikes, including the 12-day New York City transit strike a year earlier. The state Legislature granted amnesty to the striking employees, and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller appointed a committee to recommend legislation regarding public-sector employee rights. The result was the Taylor Law. It formally establishes:
- The right of public employees to organize and bargain collectively with their employers;
- The right to representation by employee organizations (unions) of their own choosing;
- The requirement that public employers (including school districts) negotiate with their employees and enter into written agreements (contracts) with their employees' chosen representatives;
- Procedures for resolution of contract disputes (impasses);
- Prohibition of improper labor practices by either side;
- Creation of the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to administer the law; and
- The requirement that bargaining unit members who choose not to join a union pay an agency fee, and that use of the fee for political and ideological purposes only incidentally related to bargaining and to which the agency fee payer objects, is subject to a rebate procedure.
The Taylor Law still denies public employees the right to strike.
The penalties for striking are loss of pay for each day the employee is on strike, plus a fine of an additional day's pay for every day on strike and potential discipline for misconduct.
NYSUT is always working to win legislation to improve the provisions of the Taylor Law. For example, the 1982 "Triborough" amendment mandated that if a collective bargaining agreement expires, its terms and conditions continue until a new agreement takes effect. That amendment has helped thousands of members avoid hardships when negotiations are impeded by harsh economic conditions, recalcitrant employers or both. An earlier improvement eliminated the "probation penalty" (probation for one year) against tenured teachers who went on strike.
Civil Service Law
Most public employees are covered under New York State Civil Service Law. This law establishes specific "jurisdictional classifications" (job classes) that are used to define the job qualifications, duties and employment rights associated with each job title. County and municipal civil service commissions are responsible for reviewing the duties of specific jobs and determining the appropriate job title for those duties. Generally, School-Related Professional members will be guaranteed protection under the law; however, certain employees in positions in the non-competitive (with less than five years service) and labor classes must receive the protection of their employment discipline rights through the local collective bargaining agreement.
Civil Service Law covers such areas as recruitment, application, examination and appointment to job titles; probationary periods; promotions; leave(s) of absence; layoff and recall of competitive class employees; and disciplinary rights (Section 75 rights).
Motor Vehicle Law
School bus drivers are subject to the provisions of the state's Motor Vehicle Law and Education Law, as well as federal regulations. Drivers are responsible for meeting specific licensing and physical examination requirements. Federal regulations require that school bus drivers be subject to random drug and alcohol tests.
Health care services
Nurses, whether practicing in a school, hospital or community, are licensed under Education Law (Nurse Practice Act Education Law, Article 139). This law defines their scope of practice.
Employees in an overwhelming majority of school districts in New York state are represented by local unions affiliated with NYSUT. While the local union is the bargaining agent for its members, NYSUT provides whatever assistance the union may require to carry out its duties. In many instances, a NYSUT labor relations specialist (LRS) represents the local union at the bargaining table and in the administration of the collective bargaining agreement. The LRS advocates on behalf of the members at the local level in front of impartial arbitrators and at the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) and, for private sector members, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). He or she works with the local affiliate in the capacity of consultant, communicator, trainer and facilitator to resolve local issues.
NYSUT maintains a staff of full-time attorneys to assist locals and members facing job-related problems. Members are guaranteed representation by an attorney in all disciplinary and most licensing cases. These attorneys have also represented members before the commissioner of education, PERB, the NLRB, other administrative agencies and in state and federal court.