Institute Forum

Summary: Former Legislators Differ Over Costs, Benefits of Public Employees’ Collective Bargaining Rights March 23, 2011

Former Legislators Differ Over Costs, Benefits of
Public Employees’ Collective Bargaining Rights

Former New York State legislators John Faso and Richard Brodsky could not think more differently about the issue of collective bargaining for public employees, as they showed in a March 23 debate on the issue, sponsored by the Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Government Law Center of Albany Law School.

For more:

Audio

Video: Introduction by Abraham Lackman
Video: Faso’s opening statement
Video: Brodsky’s opening statement
Video: Debate between Faso and Brodsky
Video: Question-and-Answer session

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Faso, former minority leader of the Assembly and 2006 Republican candidate for governor, argued that public employee unions have become too powerful, and force extraordinary and unnecessary costs on state and local governments.

“Collective bargaining has gotten out of control in New York State, and it needs reform,” he said.

Brodsky, a former Democratic Assembly member, countered that the ability of employees to come together to negotiate salaries and working conditions is a uniquely American right, and that union leaders are responsible enough to understand the state's fiscal concerns at the bargaining table.

“Collective bargaining represents democracy in the workplace,” Brodsky said.

The debate, held at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, was titled: “Should Wisconsin Come to New York? The Intersection of Collective Bargaining, Budgets and Politics.” The issue of public employees’ compensation and collective bargaining rights has garnered national attention as states look at ways to reduce budget shortfalls. In Wisconsin in particular, a series of widely publicized protests surrounded the passage of legislation weakening public employees' collective bargaining rights.

Faso characterized public employee unions’ collective bargaining power as a key issue keeping the state from advancing economically. He criticized contracts that provide some public employees such exceptional benefits as no cost for health insurance coverage, the ability to bank sick time to reduce the cost of health insurance in retirement, and even coverage for elective cosmetic surgery.

Public employee unions’ influence must be reined in, he said, to free up funds for important services and create an environment for private-sector growth in the state. He stressed that he did not want to eliminate collective bargaining, but to reform it.

“We are on an unsustainable path that simply cannot be afforded,” Faso said.

Brodsky framed the issue as a philosophical difference over values. He characterized Faso’s interest in limiting public employees’ negotiating power as an “authoritarian” approach that favored the power of the governor’s office.

“I prefer democracy in the workplace as opposed to authoritarianism in the workplace,” he said.

Brodsky said he agreed with Faso that some of the “horror stories” about excessive benefit packages had to be addressed. But he cautioned against going too far, saying public-employee unions can be effective partners in eliminating abuse and reducing costs.

“After John’s reforms are finished, you won’t have collective bargaining in any meaningful way,” he said.

This is the Institute’s second foray into the topic. On March 9, the Institute and the Labor Employment Relations Association, Capital Region Chapter, hosted a discussion on the issue with Frank Mauro of the Fiscal Policy Institute and E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center for New York State Policy. Video of that event is here.


ABOUT THE ROCKEFELLER INSTITUTE OF GOVERNMENT

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York, conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. It works closely with federal, state, and local government agencies nationally and in New York, and draws on the State University’s rich intellectual resources and on networks of public policy academic experts throughout the country.