The Taylor Law at 50
By DEBORAH A. MILES
The Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act, commonly referred to as the Taylor Law, has played a role in New York for 50 years. Reaching the half-century mark, this law is being reviewed by labor scholars in New York and across the nation as it has helped shape the relationships between labor and governments. It is the legal foundation used by the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations in its negotiations with all the state’s public employee unions.
The law is named for George W. Taylor, who was appointed by Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller in 1966 to head a five-member panel to recommend new legislation governing union rights and procedures. Taylor was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and an experienced arbitrator. He also was the chairman of the National War Labor Board during World War II.
But the law bears his name by default. Jerome Lefkowitz played the major role in drafting the law and helped to administer it afterward. In 2011, Lefkowitz was awarded the Excellence in Public Service Award from the New York State Bar Association for his 52-year legal career, and his lasting legacy on the landmark Taylor Law.
Lefkowitz admitted no one wanted their name on the law because the New York City unions were very articulate in their opposition to it.
The law made strikes by public employees illegal, as Rockefeller wanted something in place after a devastating transit strike crippled New York City in January 1966. The law also forbids anyone to instigate, encourage or condone a strike, and includes painful penalties, such as fines for the union and individual members, and the options for employers to seek additional sanctions in court.
Designed to promote harmonious and cooperative relationships between government and its employees, the law protects the public by assuring, at all times, the orderly and uninterrupted operations and functions of government.
It also recognizes the right for employees to organize and encourages collective bargaining for employees’ terms and conditions of employment. It establishes impasse procedures for the resolution of collective bargaining disputes, defines and prohibits improper practices by public employers and public employee organizations, and establishes a state agency to administer the law, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).
PERB, a three-member board appointed by the governor with the consent of the state Senate, acts as an umpire in disputes arising under the Taylor Law.
Ed Ray, a seasoned PEF field representative, said, “Later, a provision was added, the Triborough Amendment, which forces governments to continue the terms and conditions of an expired contract from being changed until a new contract is agreed to by both parties. The amendment has improved arbitration procedures and created a new cadre of skilled negotiators.
“During the past 50 years, the Taylor Law has worked efficiently and to the benefit of many PEF-represented employees. There have been instances where some employees have taken actions that were considered a job action against the employer. There also have been actions by management against employees that were unfair or coercive.”
Among the challenges facing PEF and other state labor unions is gaining support from taxpayers, elected officials and organizations to avoid repealing the Triborough Amendment. Without it, many workplace protections would be jeopardized along with quality public services New Yorkers enjoy.
A number of scholarly events recognizing the Taylor Law are being planned throughout the state this year and in 2018. The Taylor Law 50th Anniversary Committee and PERB are holding a special conference May 10-11 in Albany. The conference will provide an opportunity to celebrate the Taylor Law by showcasing its significant contributions to New York state public-sector labor-management relations. Participants will carefully examine and assess areas where the law’s effectiveness has been weakened, and document emerging and key aspects of the law.
The Taylor 50th Anniversary Committee is chaired by PERB Chairperson John Wiernius, and is composed of various organizations including several labor unions.