Across U.S., Unions Fight To Keep Bargaining Rights In Wisconsin, Ohio and a growing number of other states, unions are fighting attempts to scale back the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers. Host Michele Norris talks to Richard Hurd, a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University, about how these rights vary by state — and their impact on wages and benefits.
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Across U.S., Unions Fight To Keep Bargaining Rights

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Across U.S., Unions Fight To Keep Bargaining Rights

Across U.S., Unions Fight To Keep Bargaining Rights

Across U.S., Unions Fight To Keep Bargaining Rights

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/133971236/133971211" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In Wisconsin, Ohio and a growing number of other states, unions are fighting attempts to scale back the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers. Host Michele Norris talks to Richard Hurd, a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University, about how these rights vary by state — and their impact on wages and benefits.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Professor, welcome to the program.

RICHARD HURD: Good afternoon, Michele.

NORRIS: Now, imagine that we're looking at a map and give us the lay of the land here. It sounds like states fall into one of three categories.

HURD: And then, about eight or nine states either have no bargaining at all or limit the bargaining to a very small group. For instance, in Texas, it's firefighters who have the right to bargain. Whereas you have a state like Wisconsin or New York or New Jersey, those states have comprehensive coverage.

NORRIS: So Wisconsin it sounds like falls into that category, of course, where collective bargaining, for now, is allowed.

HURD: Right. Wisconsin was the first state to pass a collective bargaining law - that was in the late 1950s - and they have offered their public employees collective bargaining rights for now 50 years.

NORRIS: Before we move on, I'm curious. There are a small number of states, as you say, where collective bargaining is not allowed. How did that come to be?

HURD: Most states that have collective bargaining, which is a clear majority, passed their laws in the 1960s or '70s. There were a few more in the '80s and a couple here and there since then.

NORRIS: In Wisconsin, Governor Walker is arguing that collective bargaining allows these unions to win things that are quite expensive for the state, things like health care and pension funds and things like this. Help us understand what exactly collective bargaining does cover outside of wages.

HURD: It may include certain seniority protections. It includes procedures in place. So if a worker feels that they have been treated unfairly, they can file for a formal hearing. And then there's also all kinds of details about the relationship between labor and management.

NORRIS: Governor Walker of Wisconsin is claiming that unionized public sector employees have it better than private sector employees. Is that actually true when it comes to wages and benefits?

HURD: So it isn't whether you're unionized that determines whether you have good health care and benefits, it's whether you're public sector or not.

NORRIS: With these debates flaring up all around the country now - first Wisconsin, then Ohio and now being discussed in a quite animated way in several other states - how would you characterize the moment that we're in right now?

HURD: We're really talking about a handful of states for these really aggressive proposals. In most states it's being handled through the bargaining process.

NORRIS: Richard Hurd, thank you very much.

HURD: You're welcome.

NORRIS: Richard Hurd is a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University.

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