Butler Joins Hirono, Cartwright, Introducing Legislation to Strengthen Rights of Public Sector Workers to Join Unions, Bargain Collectively

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler (D-CA) joined Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA) in introducing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, bicameral legislation to guarantee the right of public sector employees to organize, act concertedly, and bargain collectively in states that currently do not afford these basic protections.

“Protecting public workers’ rights to bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions is essential to ensuring a workforce that can effectively serve the American people,” said Senator Butler. “Educators, firefighters, social workers, and so many more do critical work to keep our communities functioning. California has the most public workers in the country, and we must do all we can to safeguard their right to organize and advocate for themselves.”

While all workers’ labor rights are under threat throughout the country, unlike private sector workers, there is currently no federal law protecting the freedom of public sector workers to join a union and collectively bargain for fair wages, benefits, and improved working conditions. As of 2022, there were over 19 million public workers across the U.S.

Specifically, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act will provide the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) with the authority to determine whether a state, territory, or locality provides public employees and supervisors the right:

  1. To form, join, or assist a union, to bargain collectively, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid (including the filing of joint, class or collective legal claims) or protection;
  2. To have their union recognized by their public employer if the union is freely chosen by a majority of employees, to bargain with the employer through the union, and to commit their collective-bargaining agreement to writing;
  3. To be free from forced recertification elections of their already-recognized representative and decertification of their chosen representative within one year of an election or the expiration of a valid collective bargaining agreement;
  4. To have a procedure for resolving impasses in collective bargaining culminating in binding arbitration; and
  5. To authorize employers to deduct fees to the union from their payroll when employees consent.


The FLRA approach gives states wide flexibility to write and administer their own labor laws, provided they meet this minimum standard. If a state substantially provides for the rights and procedures laid out in the bill, that state is unaffected by this bill. States that do not provide for these rights or only partially provide for these rights, however, will be compelled to meet these basic labor standards. The FLRA must issue regulations within one year of the bill becoming law and they can enforce the law through federal court. The bill also creates a private right of action to enforce compliance in federal court but only if the FLRA has not yet filed suit seeking relief for the same issue.

“Private sector workers are guaranteed the right to organize under federal law, so too should public sector workers,” said Senator Hirono. “The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act will help ensure every public employee has their voice heard in the workplace, protecting their rights to organize for fair wages, benefits, and working conditions. I’m proud to lead this legislation to preserve and strengthen the right to unionize for public sector workers who teach our children, protect our safety, and keep our communities moving forward.”

“I will always fight to maintain collective bargaining rights for hard-working Americans, including my constituents in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where union rights are a time-honored tradition,” Representative Cartwright said. “Strong public and private sector unions built the middle class in our country. With all of the progress workers of all stripes have made, now is not the time to turn back the clock on fair pay and workplace protections when struggling families need it the most.”

“Public sector workers—teachers, firefighters, first responders, social workers, and more—who make our communities run deserve the same fundamental right to organize granted to private sector workers. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act is crucial to ensuring public sector workers can unionize and fight for family-sustaining wages and safe working conditions,” said Senator Markey.

“Nevada’s law enforcement officers, firefighters, teachers, and other public service employees work selflessly to serve communities across our state, and we must federally protect their right to organize for fair wages and better working conditions,” said Senator Rosen. “That’s why I’m proud to support this legislation to safeguard collective bargaining for these public servants and help uplift Nevada workers.”

“This is about basic fairness for working men and women.  They deserve the freedom to negotiate fair wages and to improve working conditions in the communities they serve,” said Senator Reed.

“Unions are the most powerful pathway to the middle class, and they are the driving force behind almost every single improvement in workplace conditions, wages, and overall quality of life for workers from all parts of the economy. Yet more than 17 million teachers, firefighters, and other public sector workers across the county lack basic protections to organize and collectively bargain,” said Senator Booker. “This legislation will strengthen public sector workers’ right to come together and push for better working conditions, ensuring all workers have the opportunity to thrive in an economy that includes and empowers them.”

“The union way of life is sacred,” said Senator Fetterman. “Public sector workers deserve the right to unionize, just like all other workers. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to support this bill – for workers in Pennsylvania and across the country.”

“Every worker in this country deserves a chance to advocate for themselves in their workplace. These are our teachers, first responders, health care and social workers who are irreplaceable to our communities and deserve the right to organize and fight for better working conditions,” said Senator Luján. “I’m proud to help introduce this legislation that ensures public employees have the right to unionize and fight for the wages, benefits, and working conditions that they deserve.”

“Our public sector workers drive our buses, teach our children, and are there when we need them most in emergencies,” Senator Warren said. “The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act is an important measure to protect the rights of those workers in every state and make sure they can fight together for the better wages, hours, and working conditions they deserve.”

“Public servants are at the heart of our country and are essential to the functioning of our communities. The work of public employees–from our teachers to health care professionals to firefighters–is invaluable, and they deserve fair wages that reflect the important work they do every day,” said Senator Welch. “This bill will ensure that public sector employees have federal protections to form a union and collectively bargain in their efforts to secure better pay and safer working conditions for their essential work.”

“The past few years have shown the strength and resiliency of the labor movement in the United States – despite right-wing attacks on its right to exist,” said Leader Schumer. “Every worker deserves an opportunity to join a union. New York public employees deserve to have the same security as federal and private sector workers. These workers dedicate themselves to helping their communities, and we must honor this sacrifice.”

“Hard-working Americans have a fundamental right to join together to fight for fair wages and better working conditions,” said Senator Smith. “By protecting the rights of public employees to organize and advocate for themselves, we are putting the power back in the hands of workers and strengthening the middle class.”

“The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act protects the labor rights of the hardworking men and women of the public sector. This legislation ensures that these workers, including teachers, nurses, child welfare workers, and firefighters, are not denied their right to join a union—allowing them to collectively bargain for better pay, benefits, and working conditions. All workers deserve the free and unhindered opportunity to join a union and collectively bargain,” said Senator Blumenthal.

“Americans have always believed that a hard day’s work deserves fair pay,” Senator Merkley said. “As the son of a union mechanic, I know firsthand the difference unions make across the country in standing up for workers and their families and in making sure they are paid fairly for their work. This legislation represents a significant stride toward ensuring America’s diligent public sector workers enjoy the same rights as all other workers to organize and receive fair treatment in the workplace.”

“The nearly 20 million public sector workers across our nation deserve the fundamental right to organize and fight for a fair contract and better working conditions,” said Senator Padilla. “From public school teachers who educate our children, to first responders on the frontlines of emergencies in our communities, we must guarantee the right to join a union and collectively bargain nationwide.”

“American workers’ right to organize is firmly entrenched in our democratic principles – but for state and local government employees, this right is under attack. We must act to ensure the millions of public servants across our nation – no matter where they live – have the freedom to unionize and fight to be treated fairly as they do critical work for our communities,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Our public sector workforce is one of our nation’s greatest assets. State, county and local workers – people who are on the front lines serving their communities – deserve the same right to form and join unions as federal and private sector workers,” said Senator Ben Cardin. “Unions helped build this country’s wealth and prosperity, and restoring union rights and collective bargaining will make it easier for all workers – public sector and private sector alike – to rejoin the middle class.”

In addition to Senator Butler, Hirono and Representative Cartwright, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), John Fetterman (D-PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

In the House, the bill is cosponsored by Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Scott Peters (D-CA), Jahanna Hayes (D-CT), Chuy García (D-IL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), David Trone (D-MD), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Susan Wild (D-PA), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Frederica Wilson (FL), Nikema Williams (GA), Dan Kildee (D-MI), André Carson (D-IN), Bill Foster (D-IL), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Jill Tokuda (D-HI), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Angie Craig (D-MN), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Greg Landsman (D-OH), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Marcus Molinaro (R-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Katie Porter (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Morgan McGarvey (D-KY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Deborah Ross (D-NC), Danny Davis (D-IL), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Don Bacon (R-NE), Nikki Budzinski (D-IL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Linda T Sánchez (D-CA), Kevin Mullin (D-CA), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Eric Swallwell (D-CA), Colin Allred (D-TX), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Mark Takano (D-CA), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), John Garamendi (D-CA), Glenn Ivey (D-MD), Melanie Stansbury (D-NM), Chris Deluzio (D-PA), Frank Mrvan (D-IN), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Val Hoyle (D-OR), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Don Beyer (D-VA), Mike Lawler (R-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Robert Garcia (D-CA), Dan Goldman (D-NY), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), and Greg Casar (D-TX).

This legislation is supported by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); American Federation of Teachers (AFT); Communications Workers of America (CWA); International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Transport Workers Union of America (TWU); International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM); International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers; United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW); United Steelworkers (USW); International Union of Painters & Allied Trades (IUPAT); Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU); International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE); Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE); International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO.

“The Teamsters are proud to endorse the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, guaranteeing all public sector workers the right to organize and join a union, and this bill establishes a standard that states must meet,” said Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien.  “These are the workers that make our cities and states run and we owe it to them to protect their right to organize and ensure they have a safe and dignified environment where they work.”

“Our communities are safer, healthier, and stronger when public service workers – educators, state and local government employees and others – have the freedom to bargain for family-sustaining wages, good healthcare, and the ability to retire securely. When unions bargain, they don’t just bargain for their members, they bargain for the common good, and for real solutions that address the real issues that impact all of us every day, whether it’s putting food on the table or putting our kids through college. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would make sure that an educator in Louisiana has the same right to bargain as a scientist working in New Hampshire, because the right to advocate for a better life should not depend on the state where you live. This bill ensures that workers can protect their voice on the job, which helps them advocate for themselves, their families, and the people they serve,” said Randi Weingarten, President of AFT.

“We applaud Senator Hirono and Representatives Cartwright and Fitzpatrick for again introducing the bipartisan Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would finally give public service workers nationwide collective bargaining rights. With a seat at the table, we can fight for fair pay, better benefits, and safer working conditions — all of which are critical for recruiting and retaining qualified people to work in public service. During a time when many public services face drastic staffing shortages and turnover, we must identify ways to strengthen this workforce. This crucial legislation will help do this and more,” said Lee Saunders, President of AFSCME.

“Day in and day out, public service workers provide our communities with the services they need and rely on. Just like any other workers, our public service workers deserve the right to join a union and fight for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act levels the playing field by giving public service workers the freedom to join together for a voice on the job. When public service workers feel empowered on the job, it not only benefits them, but also improves the communities which they reside in,” said Dan Mauer, Director of Government Affairs at Communications Workers of America (CWA).

“More than 21 million public sector workers currently lack a federal right to organize into a union, depriving them of the higher wages, better benefits, and safer, more equitable workplaces unions provide. The USW strongly supports Sen. Mazie Hirono’s Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act and calls on Congress to move quickly to extend this basic, fundamental right to all workers,” said Dave McCall, President of USW International.

“IFPTE thanks Senator Hirono, Congressman Cartwright, and Congressman Fitzpatrick for reintroducing The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, a bill that recognizes that unions are in the public interest and that public sector unions help deliver better public services. At a time when workers are exercising their right to organize unions, negotiate for fair working conditions, and reinvigorate the labor movement, far too many state and local public sector employees are prohibited from unionizing and bargaining collectively. IFPTE looks forward to building strong support for this much-needed legislation,” said Matthew Biggs, President of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE).

“We fight every day for more people to have access to collective bargaining which changes lives through better pay and benefits and safer working conditions,” said Utility Workers Union of America President James Slevin. “We wholeheartedly support the Public Freedom to Negotiate Act and the impact it will have on expanding collective bargaining rights to public sector workers everywhere. Thank you Senator Hirono and Representative Cartwright for advancing this important legislation.”

“Public sector workers, including tens of thousands of TWU members across the country who work directly for transit agencies, deserve the right to organize and bargain collectively just like any other worker,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen. “It’s a shame that a public sector worker living in a state with anti-union laws doesn’t have the same rights to join and form a union like any private sector employee does regardless of where they live. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would fix this injustice.”

“All professionals should have the right to join together in union. I applaud Senator Hirono and Representative Cartwright for leading the introduction of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act in the 118th Congress, which will ensure professionals employed by local and state governments have the right to form a union and collectively bargain. Public sector professionals who have the right to negotiate with their employers are able to raise workplace standards, which in turn strengthens communities,” said Jennifer Dorning, President, Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE).

“I want to thank Senator Mazie Hirono and Representative Matt Cartwright for introducing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which is a very important piece of legislation that gives our nation’s public service workers like teachers, health care workers and firefighters the right they so deserve to join a union and collectively bargain,” said Machinists Union (IAM) International President Brian Bryant. “These public workers play such a crucial role in the communities they proudly serve. These public servants deserve the right to collectively negotiate decent wages, workplace protections and earn a voice in the workplace.”

The full text of the bill is available HERE.


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