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New York State Taylor Law: History

The History of the New York State Public Employees' Fair Employment Act 

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, despite some union organizing and periodic labor unrest in the nation, there were no Federal or New York State laws addressing labor organizing in either the private or the public sector. In 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (also known as the Wagner Act). The National Labor Relations Act gave private sector unions recognition for the purpose of collective bargaining, but did not address public sector unions.

Post WWII Labor Unrest Sets the Stage for a Public Employees Strike Prohibition

Following World War II, as the nation made the difficult transition from wartime to peacetime production, there was a great deal of labor unrest across the country. In the 12 months following V-J Day, more than five million workers (nearly one tenth of the nation's workforce) struck in 4,630 reported work stoppages. New York State was no exception to this national trend, and public sector strikes in the state were particularly problematic. In 1946, Rochester's mayor summarily dismissed 486 civil servants and threatened to contract out all government services in response to a request for union recognition. To demonstrate their support of the union and disagreement with the mayor's reaction, 30,000 public and private workers in Rochester participated in a one-day general strike. The following year, 2,400 Buffalo teachers struck for a week, effectively shutting down the schools.

Public Sector Strike Prohibited by US and NYS Law - 1947

Due to the essential nature of many government services, a public sector strike can be extremely costly and even dangerous to a community. Recognizing this, the U.S. Congress prohibited public sector strikes and established strict penalties (immediate dismissal and a 3-year bar to reemployment) for striking public sector employees in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. That same year, New York State passed the Condon-Wadlin Act, which also prohibited public sector strikes. Under the Condon-Wadlin Act, a striking public sector employee was to be immediately fired. If reinstated to his/her position, a striker was barred from any pay increase for three years, and was placed on probation without tenure for five years.

Public Sector Strikes Still Occurred

These penalties were seldom enforced. Through 1964, though there were 21 strikes, the law was only invoked seven times, and only 18 striking employees were dismissed across the state. Others were rehired or transferred and it is uncertain if the pay and tenure penalties were applied (Donovan, 6). In 1963, to improve enforcement of the Condon-Wadlin Act, the New York State legislature revised the penalties for striking to: (1) a six-month pay freeze to reinstated employees (rather than three years); (2) a one year probation without tenure (rather than five); (3) two days of pay deducted for each day on strike. In addition to these revised penalties, private citizens were given the right to file suit against a local government which did not implement the law or enforce the penalties.

These changes to the law still did not prevent public sector strikes. In 1965, 6,000 Department of Welfare workers struck for 28 days. Part of the negotiated settlement was the suspension of strike penalties (Donovan 1990: 12) . Less than one year later, on New Year's Day of 1966, a transit worker's strike shut down New York City for twelve days, costing an estimated $100 million each day. The negotiated settlement included a pay increase, which was contested in a suit by a private citizen. With the threat of a continued strike looming, the state legislature passed an amnesty bill exempting all strikers from Condon-Wadlin penalties (ibid.: 19-20). Clearly, the Condon-Wadlin prohibition of striking and its penalties, even in their revised form, did not prevent costly public sector strikes.

Three days after the end of the New York City transit strike, Governor Nelson Rockefeller announced the appointment of a Public Employee Relations Committee, to "make legislative proposals for protecting the public against the disruption of vital public services by illegal strikes, while at the same time protecting the rights of public employees" (Rockefeller, as quoted in Donovan 1990: 23). Because it was chaired by George W. Taylor, Harnwell Professor of Industry at the University of Pennsylvania, the committee was known as the Taylor Committee. The Public Employees' Fair Employment Act (Section 14 of the New York State Civil Service Law) was passed in 1967 based upon the committee's recommendations. It is called the Taylor Law after the Professor George Taylor, the chair of the Committee.

Taylor Law Mandates Public Sector Collective Bargaining to Prevent Strikes - 1967

The Taylor Law maintains the prohibition of and penalties for public employee strikes, but addresses the root causes of strikes to prevent them by creating a process for negotiation between management and labor, and an agency with the mandate to implement and interpret the statute. Some say that the Taylor Law gives labor the right to bargain collectively in return for taking away the right to strike. In fact, public servants never had the legal right to strike in New York State, but prohibitions and penalties had not worked to prevent them. The Taylor Committee believed that collective bargaining would be more effective.