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NY State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried Proposes 'Workaround' In Response To SCOTUS Ruling On Unions

Richard Gottfried at a rally for single-payer healthcare in Albany.
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Richard Gottfried at a rally for single-payer healthcare in Albany. Courtesy of Gottfried's website.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a senior member of the New York State assembly, plans to introduce new legislation in response to the Supreme Court's decision last week in the Janus vs. AFSCME case, which ruled that non-union employees do not have to pay fees to unions to cover the costs of collective bargaining. The decision could cost public-employee unions more than $100 million a year, the NY Post reports.

The SCOTUS ruling effectively bans unions from charging agency fees (instead of dues) to non-members who are still covered by its collective bargaining agreement. The Supreme Court ruled found these agency fees to be a violation of the First Amendment, but many labor advocates objected, saying that all employees should cover the cost of negotiation, regardless of union status, since all are covered by the same contract.

Under Gottfried's proposed legislation, unions would be allowed to include collective-bargaining costs in contracts with government agencies, to replace the mandatory fees last week's SCOTUS decision outlawed. Gottfried called his proposed legislation "a workaround," telling the Post, "New York state—in our Constitution and law—has long recognized that public employees have the right to collectively bargain."

Gottfried reportedly outlined his plan in a memo to other state lawmakers that was then obtained by conservative Albany-based think tank the Empire Center. In a blog post from the center condemning Gottfried's memo, policy analyst Ken Girardin argues that the proposed legislation would "effectively use taxpayer money to reimburse government unions for the 'agency fees' they are no longer allowed to collect" under the SCOTUS ruling.

According to Girardin, Gottfried's "workaround" would allow public employers to directly reimburse unions for costs of collective bargaining and other aspects of contract negotiation, with that amount "proportionately reduc[ing] the workers' salary."

"In reality, however, it’s unlikely that any worker would experience a pay cut under the scheme described by Gottfried," Girardin claims, citing the "realities" of union negotiations under state law. "Instead, a percentage of future raises would be designated as collective bargaining expenses and permanently embedded in base salaries on a recurring, permanent basis." In comments to the Post, Girardin referred to Gottfried's plan as a "terrible policy," and implied that powerful unions with allies in state government would ultimately stick taxpayers with the bargaining tab.

Gottfried disputes this, telling the tabloid, "Unions don’t get to write their own ticket. Unions often have gone for years without any contract because the public employer and the union didn’t come to an agreement."

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