According to the Journal News (14 January, page 3A), Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said on Friday that the Triborough Amendment should be repealed or changed because the amendment discourages unions from agreeing to givebacks. The county’s largest public employee union, CSEA, countered by saying that the amendment levels the playing field.
I taught at Purchase College, SUNY, for more than two decades, and so was subject to this amendment and the larger law it is part of. The Taylor Law was passed in 1967. It was an attempt to deal fairly with state employees while prohibiting strikes by those who work in service agencies, thereby protecting those who depend on their services. It was an honest attempt to strike a reasonable balance between the rights of workers and the needs of all citizens. It became clear, however, that a prohibition on strikes gave the managers of a government agency every incentive not to bargain in good faith.
Strikes, after all, are the only potent weapon a union has, so something had to be done to level the playing field for the workers. Arbitration would have been useful, and the Taylor Law provides for arbitration, but only if both parties request it. So government managers had the upper hand and the workers could do little about it.
In 1982 the NYS legislature passed the Triborough Amendment. It did not remove the prohibition on strikes that calls for a fine of two day’s pay for every day on strike for every worker and also permits the state agency to fire all strikers. That’s OK. It is reasonable to make the highest priority keeping a hospital, school, or other public service up and running. What Triborough changed was the unfair situation in which a state agency could stonewall its employees when a contract ended until the employees gave in to whatever demands were made. Under Triborough the old contract stays in force, but without any cost of living or merit increases. Step increases (essentially a reward for longevity) would continue. (Not all public employees get those, however. SUNY’s faculty does not.)
Mr. Astorino has called for “repeal or change” of Triborough. Repeal would take things back to an old, untenable situation. One change that might be possible is to modify the Taylor Law rules on arbitration. After a defined period of impasse, say somewhere between 30 and 60 days, the Public Employee Relations Board could be required to set up a balanced arbitration panel, and both parties required to participate and be bound by the panel’s decisions. That just might concentrate both union and management on achieving a fair contract. I expect arbitration would rarely be necessary.