Tuesday, April 18, 2006

It's Time to Reform the Taylor Law!

Public employees in New York State, including faculty and staff at the City University of New York (CUNY) are covered by the Taylor Law (officially known as the 'Public Employees Fair Employment Act'). There are several aspects to the Taylor Law, but the most cited is that it is a crime for New York State public employees to go on strike. Well, actually, the law says "no public employee or employee organization shall cause, instigate, encourage, or condone a strike", so just saying "We oughta strike!" is breaking the law.

The Taylor Law is being used by government and public agency executives as a hammer to force New York State's public employees to work years without pay raises, and then to accept lower-than-inflation wage increases. By June, 2005, fully one-third of the members of the New York State United Teachers, the umbrella organization for education-related state employees, were working without contracts.

In this political climate, trying to repeal the Taylor Law, or amend it to permit job actions, is a waste of energy, particularly after the transit workers' strike of December 2005. No state legislator planning on re-election is going to vote to allow public employees to strike. But the lapsed contract of CUNY's employees in the Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY) provides plenty of examples of how public sector management uses the Taylor Law to delay negotiations and drag out contract resolutions.

Management Practice #1: What Deadline?
The last contract between CUNY and the PSC expired October 31st, 2002--almost 3-1/2 years ago! CUNY's management did not make its first economic offer until December 1, 2004—more than 2 years after the contract expired. That's 762 days later—even with weekends, vacations, and holidays, that means it took CUNY's management over 400 work days to come up with its offer of a 1.5% total increase for four years. Whether an inability to calculate an offer, or a willful delay, neither reflect well on the CUNY administration. The former shows a lack of productivity at 80th Street, the latter a cynical but skillful manipulation of the Taylor Law, because employees had no recourse but to wait for an offer.

Reform #1A: Management must make an economic offer 60 days before the expiration of a contract.
There's nothing that says management won't make a ridiculously low starting offer, like CUNY's management did, but at least this will remove one delaying tactic from their arsenal. There's no defense for a two-year delay for an economic offer.

Reform #1B: If a new agreement isn't reached within 60 days after the expiration of a contract, all decision-makers must meet weekly in contract negotiations until an agreement is reached.
This is mostly to force timely and regular negotiation sessions, instead of dragging out time between meetings. This will cut two ways, because sometimes unions delay meetings. The idea is that, if the negotiators are busy people, they'll come to a deal more quickly rather than meet weekly to accomplish nothing.

Management Practice #2: No, We Don't Feel Your Pain!
On October 27, 2003, almost one year into the lapsed contract, the CUNY Board of Trustees voted a 40% pay increase for Matthew Goldstein, the Chancellor of CUNY. In addition, various vice-chancellors and college presidents at CUNY received pay raises at this same time. The premise was that these administrators had achieved productivity savings and met performance goals. Somehow, these savings and goals were achieved without the help of CUNY employees, who were still laboring without a contract (one of these performance goals must have been to string out the contract negotiations). No matter the public rationale, management was rewarded while dragging out a contract resolution. Any behaviorist will tell you that rewarding bad behavior begets more of that behavior.

Reform #2: While any previous contracts have lapsed and a new agreement has not been reached, executive level raises must be deferred.
For the Taylor Law to work as public policy, it has to be seen as fair—yes, public employees are not allowed to strike, but neither is management allowed to 'pile on'. Currently, only the union employees suffer financially from dragged out negotiations. Instead of rewarding dilatory negotiations on the part of management, the Taylor Law should make both sides suffer when contracts are not negotiated in a timely fashion. Any delay on management's part would also hurt management's members.

Management Practice #3: Sometimes a Deal is not a Deal
Before the NYC Transit Strike in December, 2005, Governor George Pataki pointedly refused to be involved in the contract negotiations. After the first day of the strike, a tentative deal was reached between the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Transit Workers Union (TWU). Governor Pataki then vetoed the deal, even though he had appointed the chair of the MTA, Peter Kalikow, and Kalikow had agreed to the deal.

During the CUNY contract negotiations, a 'framework' of an agreement had been reached in November, 2005, only to have CUNY management back away from the deal. CUNY's management claimed that it didn't have the final say in the contract negotiations, but instead, needed approval from the City and the State, both of whom fund CUNY. Up to that point, City and State representatives had not been part of the negotiations. Predictably, both the City and the State balked at some of the items in the 'framework', and a settlement was delayed another five months.

This is a newly discovered tactic available to management through the Taylor Law, and it serves only one purpose--to let union negotiators think they have a deal, and then hit them with one last 'gotcha'! It's basically a sucker punch, serving only to throw negotiators off-guard and to dispirit public employees who have no other legal recourse in their negotiations.

Reform #3: Authorized decision-makers from all parties, including the City and the State, must be present at deal-making negotiations.
This is particularly an issue with quasi-government organizations like the MTA and CUNY. Without the presence of all decision-makers, this current law provides an additional layer of unaccountability on the part of management to make a deal

The Taylor Law should not be a weapon
In return for minimizing the disruption of services to the public, the Taylor Law, as public policy, has to provide an environment of good-faith and timely resolution to contract and pay disputes for public employees. More and more, however, the managements in various public and quasi-public agencies are using the Taylor Law as a bludgeon against their employees to drag out negotiations and offer lower-than-inflation pay increases. All the penalties and 'downside' are on the part of the employees. The Taylor Law is currently an unfair law, and it needs to be reformed. We need to press our lawmakers to make these reforms.