Erie County Legislature Acts to Protect County Employees in Wake of Janus Decision

Members of the Democratic Caucus of the Erie County Legislature stood today with representatives from the Civil Service Employee Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters and other labor organizations to assert their support for unions, especially public sector unions, in the wake of the US Supreme Court Janus ruling. The legislators also discussed the risks to County employees who elect to resign their membership in a public union, as well as the steps the Erie County Legislature just took to prevent political groups from obtaining county workers’ personal information.

On June 27, 2018, a closely divided Supreme Court overruled 41 years of precedent and found that public sector employees who are represented by a union, but who wish to not be a union member and are paying agency fees, are no longer required to pay such fees to the union, but that the union must nonetheless represent such non-members in most instances, thereby creating what have been called “free riders.”

Anticipating such a decision, nationally-funded outside anti-union interest groups have mounted campaigns to encourage unionized public employees around the country to resign their membership and become free riders. In New York, teachers received emails from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative public policy institute associated with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos encouraging them to resign their membership in the union.

To avoid exposing Erie County employees to such campaigns, the Legislature passed a bipartisan resolution submitted by the Democratic majority in an 8-3 vote at its legislative session on July 12.  That resolution that would bar groups from obtaining county employees’ personal information, including, but not limited to, employee home addresses, personal email addresses, and personal telephone numbers, unless compelled to do so by lawful service of subpoena, or otherwise required by court or law. The resolution does not apply to employee organizations as defined by Article 14 of NY Civil Service Law.

The resolution noted that the Erie County Legislature wishes to avoid having such divisive campaigns launched upon the employees of Erie County government, which has a long and productive history of positive and mutually-beneficial labor-management relations that has served the community well.

“We are not going to allow the hard-working employees of Erie County to be tossed around like footballs between rival political teams,” said Erie County Legislator John Bruso. “This resolution will help protect their privacy and avoid a needless politicization of the county workforce due to outside partisan groups.”

On April 12, 2018, in expectation of a Janus ruling against unions, New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law an amendment to the Taylor Law. The amendment requires public sector unions not to provide representation to public employees who choose not to be a member of a union and who decline to pay union membership dues.

“Public employees should understand the risks they are assuming in order to save a few dollars,” said Erie County Legislature Majority Leader April N. M. Baskin. “While public sector employees are entitled to make their own decisions, ending union membership can leave them vulnerable to a loss of union representation in situations such as grievances, arbitrations, discipline or discharge. I urge them to weigh the costs and consequences.”

“It is very difficult to negotiate successfully when there are people in the organization who are not participating, and are allowed to stand outside and reap the benefits,” said Richard Lipsitz, Jr., President of the Area Labor Federation. “I thank the members of the Democratic Caucus for taking the initiative to pass this resolution and encourage other municipalities to follow their lead."

“There is a clear correlation between the decline in union membership and the decline of the American middle class,” said Erie County Legislator Pat Burke. “Stagnant wages, job insecurity and the erosion of our quality of life can all be traced back to the sustained attack on labor that the right has been engaged in for almost forty years. I am proud to stand with the hard-working men and women in organized labor and pledge that no taxpayer dollars will be used to fund efforts to encourage employees of Erie County to resign their membership.”

Certified copies of the resolution were transmitted to the County Executive, Commissioners of Personnel and Labor Relations, and to the presidents of CSEA Local 800, AFSCME Local 1095, NYSNA, Teamsters Local 264, Sheriff PBA, CSEA Correctional Unit, and the Librarians Association.