CUNY professors challenge exclusive representation under New York’s Taylor Law

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Six City University of New York (CUNY) professors filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Jan. 12 challenging the constitutionality of a state law allowing a union to become the exclusive representative for all public-sector employees within a mandatory bargaining unit. The professors, five of whom are Jewish, accuse the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) of anti-Semitism and allege that the union cannot represent them fairly.  

About the lawsuit

The plaintiffs are CUNY professors Avraham Goldstein, Michael Goldstein, Frimette Kass-Shraibman, Mitchell Langbert, Jeffrey Lax, and Maria Pagano. The Fairness Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation represent the plaintiffs.  

The defendants are the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the City University of New York (CUNY), the chairman and members of the New York Public Employee Relations Board in their official capacities, the city of New York, and the New York State Comptroller.

According to their complaint, the plaintiffs “strongly object to being exclusively represented by PSC … [and] object to being forced to associate with PSC in any manner, to having PSC speak for them in any manner, and to providing support to PSC in any form.” The plaintiffs allege that being required to be included in a bargaining unit represented by PSC violates their first Amendment rights. 

In June 2021, PSC adopted a “Resolution in Support of the Palestinian People,” which the plaintiffs consider to be “anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, and anti-Israel.” According to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, “In the months since the Resolution, PSC members have held chapter-level discussions … [that] encourage support for the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] movement among rank-and-file members of PSC … The Jewish Plaintiffs believe the Resolution, and related conduct by PSC, sets them and their co-religionists apart and singles them out for disparate treatment, opprobrium, and hostility, based solely upon their religious, ethnic, and moral beliefs and identity, including their support for Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

The plaintiffs ask the court to declare that “the certification and recognition of PSC as Plaintiffs’ exclusive representative … violate Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights of free speech and free association and are unconstitutional,” and to declare that “Section 204 of the Taylor Law is unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to the extent that it requires or authorizes PSC to be Plaintiffs’ exclusive representative and compels Plaintiffs to associate with other employees in the bargaining unit for purposes of speech and expressive activities.”

About the Taylor Law

New York’s Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act, known as the Taylor Law, governs public-sector labor relations in the state. The New York State Public Employment Relations Board administers the act, which can be found in Article 14 of the New York Civil Service Law. Regarding exclusive representation, the law says: 

“Where an employee organization has been certified or recognized … it shall be the exclusive representative … of all the employees in the appropriate negotiating unit, and the appropriate public employer shall be, and hereby is, required to negotiate collectively with such employee organization in the determination of, and administration of grievances arising under, the terms and conditions of employment of the public employees … and to negotiate and enter into written agreements with such employee organizations in determining such terms and conditions of employment.” 

Perspectives 

PSC representative Fran Clark said:

“This meritless lawsuit, brought by faculty who are not members of our union and funded by the notoriously right-wing National Right to Work Legal Foundation, is just another attempt to erode the power of organized labor to fight for better pay and working conditions and a more just society. PSC members—and non-member free-riders such as the plaintiffs—have good health insurance, benefits, due-process rights, contractual raises and salary steps because of the union’s contract negotiations. The ‘Right to Work’ agenda is rooted in white supremacy; it will find little purchase at CUNY, the nation’s largest, most diverse urban university system.” 

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said

“It is no surprise that PSC union officials have immediately resorted to ad hominem attacks and baseless name-calling as opposed to defending their coercive monopoly ‘representation’ powers, which have historically been used to discriminate against or otherwise harm rank-and-file workers. Such baseless accusations are page 1 of Big Labor’s playbook when their coercive forced unionism power is exposed by the very workers they claim to represent. No American worker should be forced under the representation of a union they oppose, and it’s high time that federal courts protect this basic aspect of workers’ freedom of association.”

The case name and number are Goldstein et al. v. Professional Staff Congress/CUNY et al. (1:22-cv-00321).

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has 24 active judges and four vacancies. Of the active judges on the court, Democratic presidents nominated 17—Bill Clinton nominated two, and Barack Obama nominated 15—and Republican presidents nominated seven—George W. Bush nominated three, and Donald Trump nominated four. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has appellate jurisdiction over this court.

Bureau of Labor Statistics releases annual union membership estimates

On Jan. 20, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its annual estimates of union membership in the United States. The full press release and data can be found here.

  • The BLS estimates that 33.9% of public-sector workers nationwide were union members in 2021, roughly five and a half times the membership rate in the private sector (6.1%). In 2020, public-sector union membership was estimated at 34.8%, and in 2019, it was 33.6%.
  • An estimated 40.2% of local government workers were union members in 2021, down from 41.7% in 2020.
  • An estimated 29.6% of state workers were union members in 2021, down from 29.9% in 2020.
  • An estimated 24.9% of federal workers were union members in 2021, down from 26.0% in 2020.

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 75 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

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue.

  • Delaware SB201: This bill would apply the Delaware Public Employment Relations Act to employers with 10 or more full-time employees, rather than 100 or more full-time employees.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Senate Labor Committee hearing held Jan. 19. 
  • Florida S1458: This bill would require certain public employees to sign an authorization form before joining a union acknowledging that union membership is not a condition for employment and that membership and dues are voluntary. It would require unions to allow certain public employees to end their membership by a written request. The bill would also prevent employers from deducting dues from certain employees’ paychecks. It would also amend requirements for bargaining agent recertification and union registration renewal. 
    • Republican sponsorship. 
    • Introduced Jan. 18. 
  • Maine LD555: This bill would grant most public-sector employees the right to strike. Select public safety and judicial employees would not be allowed to strike. 
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Joint Standing Committee on Labor and Housing held a public hearing and work session on Jan. 19. Divided report anticipated. 
  • Maryland SB118: This bill would extend collective bargaining rights to certain graduate students within the University System of Maryland, Morgan State University, and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Senate Finance Committee hearing scheduled for Jan. 27.
  • New Hampshire HB1041: This bill would extend the public employee labor relations act to cover nonpartisan employees of the New Hampshire Legislature. 
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • House Legislative Administration Committee public hearing held Jan. 19.   
  • Oklahoma SB1380: This bill would require school employees to sign an annual authorization form before school districts may deduct union dues or political contributions from employee paychecks. The bill would prescribe the wording of the authorization form. It would also require school districts to confirm authorizations by email before deducting dues. 
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Introduced Jan. 19, first reading scheduled for Feb. 7. 
  • Oklahoma SB1404: This bill would require that school employee unions submit to secret-ballot elections in order to continue on as collective bargaining agents. A majority of employees must vote in favor in order for the employee union to continue to represent the unit. 
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Introduced Jan. 19, first reading scheduled for Feb. 7.
  • Virginia SB264: This bill would allow state and local government employees, other than exempted employees, to organize and bargain collectively, and it would create a Public Employee Relations Board. It would require public employers and employee organizations to negotiate in good faith.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Stricken at request of patron in Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Jan. 17.
  • Washington HB1771: This bill would allow family child care providers to bargain collectively over defined contribution retirement benefits.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Executive session in the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee held Jan. 21.



About the author

Janie Valentine

Janie Valentine is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.