Union Station: Biden, AFSCME include Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act in Labor Day statements

Biden, AFSCME include Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act in Labor Day statements

Over Labor Day weekend, President Joe Biden (D) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) each reiterated their endorsements of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act (PSFNA), congressional legislation originally introduced in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME

Biden issued a Labor Day proclamation on Sept. 3 that said, “American workers should make their own decisions –- free from coercion and intimidation — about organizing with their co-workers to have a stronger voice in their workplaces, their communities, and their government. That is why I strongly support the Protecting the Right to Organize [PRO] Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.” (The PRO Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March, would amend federal labor laws for private sector workers.) 

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a Labor Day statement that the PSFNA would “empower public employees nationwide with collective bargaining rights, giving us the seat at the table we deserve.” AFSCME also highlighted its support for the act on its blog and Facebook page over the weekend. 

About the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act 

First introduced the day of the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, and reintroduced a year later, the PSFNA would “[set] a minimum nationwide standard for collective bargaining rights that all states must provide to public sector workers,” according to the bill’s fact sheet.  

Versions of the bill were introduced and referred to committee in June 2018, during the 115th Congress, and in June 2019, during the 116th Congress. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) sponsored the bill both years. Neither version of the bill made it to a vote.

The 2019 bill says, “Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the [Federal Labor Relations Authority] shall issue rules and take such actions that the Authority determines appropriate to establish and administer collective bargaining rights and procedures that substantially provide for the rights and procedures described in [the section of the act outlining federal minimum standards for collective bargaining rights].” The Federal Labor Relations Authority is the entity that administers federal labor relations.

The bill would establish the following rights for public employees: 

(A) to self-organization;

(B) to form, join, or assist a labor organization or to refrain from any such activity;

(C) to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing; and

(D) 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.

For more information about each version of the bill on Congress.gov, click here.



  • In August 2020, a report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) said: “Currently more than half of the states lack comprehensive collective bargaining laws for public-service workers like teachers. Public-service workers deserve the right to join together in unions to fight for stronger safety and health protections, better pay, and better working conditions.” The EPI describes its mission as “to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity.”  
  • A fact sheet for the Communications Workers of America’s June 2020 legislative-political conference said, “Since the outrageous, anti-worker Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME, public service workers across the country work under this unfair free rider law. It’s time to level the playing field by establishing federal protections to guarantee public service workers the right to join together and collectively bargain.” 
  • An October 2019 AFL-CIO legislative alert said, “Unlike the private sector, there is no federal law that protects the freedom of state and local public service workers to join in a union and collectively bargain for fair wages, hours, and working conditions. … It’s time to even the playing field for working people and public servants by passing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.”  
  • A June 2019 legislative report from AFSCME said the PSFNA was “needed to unrig a system that favors the wealthy over working people. It marks another big step forward in the growing political and grassroots momentum behind unions after years of attacks on workers from right-wing special interests and politicians.”
  • In June 2019, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, “The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act closes the chasm in public sector bargaining rights, ensuring minimum standards are in place across the nation, while retaining flexibility for states to write and administer their own laws. … [T]his bill helps public workers achieve together what would be impossible alone—better and more-efficient services, dignity and a voice at work, and fair compensation and benefits for the work they do. We are proud to support it.” 


  • In March 2021, National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC) President Mark Mix wrote, “A federal power grab introduced in the 2019-20 Congress as H.R.3464/S.1970, and strongly endorsed by Biden … would, by federal fiat, foist union monopoly bargaining on state and local fire fighters and other public-sector workers in all 50 states.” NRTWC describes itself as “a coalition of 2.8 million workers and concerned Americans fighting to break the chains of forced unionism.”
  • A January 2021 report from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy said, “The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act represents another tremendous threat to worker freedom. This act, while incapable of overriding the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision … would nevertheless drastically limit state’s [sic] abilities to manage government employees. … Most notably, the PSFNA would force all states to adopt collective bargaining with almost no limitation.” The Mackinac Center describes itself as “a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government.” 
  • In September 2019, Empire Center for Public Policy fellow Ken Girardin said, “While supporters claim the proposed law merely intends to protect union bargaining rights, it would represent a major change in the federal government’s long-standing neutrality towards state and local labor relations. … Requiring binding arbitration, as opposed to simply allowing parties to come to terms directly, would be a one-way street to inflexible and expensive labor deals.” The Empire Center, a New York–based think tank, says its mission is to “Make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.”  
  • In July 2018, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) policy analyst Trey Kovacs wrote, “The more concerning aspect of the bill is it grants broad power to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which currently governs only federal employee labor relations, to enforce the legislation and to determine whether states are in compliance with its requirements. … The FLRA’s regulations will essentially override current state labor relations law and establish collective bargaining procedures for the state.” CEI’s mission is to “promote both freedom and fairness by making good policy good politics.”

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 99 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

No public-sector union bills saw activity this week.