Labor-Management Relations

Collective bargaining became a legal right of public employees at all levels in New York State in 1967. Unionization of public employees spread rapidly the state. A set of procedures developed within the provisions of the Taylor Law, which now regulates labor-management relations in government at the local as well as the state level.

All local governments in the State of New York are public employers. Local Government officials need to be aware of and understand the rules and procedures that apply to relations between the governmental unit and its employees.

Historical Background

Prior to 1967, public employees in New York State did not have a statutory right to bargain collectively. The only statute regulating conditions of employment for public employees, the Condon-Wadlin Act of 1947, did not give public employees any rights to participate in decisions regarding such conditions. This act, passed following labor disputes among public employees in Rochester, Buffalo and New York City, prohibited strikes by public employees and established severe penalties for violation of its provisions.

The Condon-Wadlin Act failed to make any provision for the amelioration of conditions which led to strikes. The growing realization that the Condon-Wadlin Act did not deter strikes, combined with an increasing demand by public employees for bargaining rights, generated pressure for amendment or replacement of the act. Several bills to do so were introduced in the State Legislature between 1960 and 1963, but none passed. They generally provided for some modification of penalties for striking and for the establishment of various forms of grievance procedures for public employees.

Several events in the 1950’s and early 1960’s encouraged employees of state and local governments had been to assert their desires for collective negotiations. In 1950, Governor Thomas E. Dewey guaranteed to state employees the right to join employee organizations and created a grievance procedure. In 1954, Mayor Robert Wagner of New York City issued an interim Executive Order that granted limited collective bargaining rights to New York City transit workers. In later years, other employee groups were also granted these rights.

Interest in collective bargaining for public employees was also stirring in the State Legislature. In 1962, a staff report to the Joint Legislative Committee on Industrial and Labor Conditions stressed the need for a “more rational labor relations program for public employees.”

The strike penalties of the Condon-Wadlin Act were softened for a period between 1963 and 1965. However, the original act was restored, when two work stoppages occurred in New York City in the following year. When the penalties prescribed by the Condon-Wadlin Act were once again circumvented, Governor Rockefeller responded by appointing a blue ribbon committee on public employee relations. The legislation proposed by this committee, and enacted in 1967, came to be known as the Taylor Law (named for its chairman, George Taylor). The Taylor Law thus became the first comprehensive labor relations law for public employees in New York State and was among the first in the country. The Taylor Law applies to the State of New York, its counties, cities, towns, villages, public authorities, school districts, and certain of its special service districts.

The Taylor Law:

  • grants public employees the right to organize and negotiate collectively with their employers;

  • gives public employees the right to be represented by employee organizations of their own choice;

  • requires public employers to negotiate with their employees and enter into written agreements with public employee organizations representing specific negotiation units of workers;

  • establishes impasse procedures for the resolution of deadlocks in negotiations;

  • mandates binding arbitration of disputes in police and fire negotiations;

  • prohibits as “improper practices” certain acts by employers and employee organizations;

  • prohibits strikes by public employees; and

  • establishes a neutral agency — the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to administer the law and “referee” public sector labor relations.

The Public Employment Relations Board

The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) is an integral part of the Taylor Law’s philosophy of labor relations. This board was created to serve as an independent, neutral agency to administer the provisions of the Taylor Law and to promote cooperative relationships between public employers and their employees. To this end, PERB has the following functions and powers:

  • administration of the Taylor Law statewide within a framework of policies set by the Legislature;

  • adoption of rules and regulations;

  • resolution of representation disputes;

  • provision of conciliation service to assist contract negotiations;

  • adjudication of improper practice charges;

  • determination of culpability of employee organizations for striking and order of forfeiture of dues and agency shop fee check-off privileges as a penalty; and

  • recommendation of changes in the Taylor Law.

Although the Taylor Law provides local governments with the option of handling their own public employment relations matters, few have chosen to do so. At one time, there were 34 local boards, but only five remain in existence. These local boards exercise most of the responsibilities of the state PERB, but have no jurisdiction over improper practice charges and do not perform research.

In New York City, the Office of Collective Bargaining (OCB) fulfills PERB functions. For several years, authority over improper practice cases in New York City resided with PERB, but in 1979 the Legislature returned this responsibility to OCB.

Elements in the Bargaining Process

The Negotiating Unit

A negotiating unit is a group of employees who are held by PERB to constitute a body appropriate for bargaining purposes, or who are voluntarily recognized as such by a public employer. All employees of the jurisdiction may be joined into a single unit for purposes of collective bargaining, or they may be divided into several separate units which negotiate independently. The latter is more common.

When the employer “recognizes” the unit, no legal proceedings are necessary to determine the unit’s composition. However, when the employer does not recognize the unit, PERB must determine its appropriateness. The Taylor Law specifies that PERB must apply certain standards in determining negotiating units.

PERB also may exclude management/confidential personnel from negotiating units. Management personnel are employees who formulate policy, are directly involved in collective bargaining, or have a major role in administering a collective bargaining agreement or personnel administration. Confidential employees are those who assist or act in a confidential capacity to management personnel who are directly involved with labor relations, contract administration or personnel administration. Both the state and local governments that wish to exclude management/confidential personnel from existing negotiating units may apply to PERB for such exclusions. Negotiating units may also apply to PERB to have management/confidential positions reclassified as negotiating unit positions.

The Bargaining Agent

After the appropriate negotiating unit is defined by employer recognition or by PERB, employees in the unit may exercise the right to be represented by an employee organization of their choice. The chosen organization, once it is recognized or certified, is known as the “bargaining agent” and serves as the exclusive representative of all workers in the negotiating unit, whether or not they are members of the union.

Public employers may voluntarily recognize a particular employee organization as the bargaining agent for a specific negotiating unit. This action is called “recognition.” If, however, the employer does not voluntarily recognize the employee organization, the union must petition PERB for certification, which designates the union as the exclusive bargaining agent for all employees in the negotiating unit for a fixed period of time.

PERB may conduct an election among the members of the negotiating unit to determine which bargaining agent should be certified. Employees face different choices in different elections: they may be asked to choose between competing employee organizations or between an organization and no bargaining agent. After an election, PERB certifies the winner as the bargaining agent. In most cases where only one union seeks bargaining agent status, an election is not held. Rather, PERB grants certification upon a showing by the employee organization that the majority of members in the negotiating unit have signed cards — generally dues check-off cards — indicating their support for the organization seeking certification.

Once certified, the union has the right to represent the employees in the bargaining unit without challenge by the employer or another organization until seven months before the expiration of the collective agreement between the union and the employer. One month earlier, a “window period” opens. During this period, petitions may be filed to change the negotiating unit.

Changes in the certification itself may also occur during the window period. For example, a challenging employee organization may launch a petition drive at this time to force an election against the incumbent bargaining agent. If the challenger demonstrates sufficient support (30 percent of the members of the unit), PERB will schedule an election giving employees a choice between the challenger, the incumbent bargaining agent, and no representative.

Contract Bargaining

Once the bargaining agent has been certified, the Taylor Law requires a public employer negotiate with the bargaining agent over the wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment for employees in the negotiating unit. The Taylor Law charges both employers and employee organizations to bargain in good faith. Generally, public employers should be aware that for them good faith means:

  • bargaining with employee organizations at reasonable times and places;

  • listening to and considering bargaining positions put forth by employee groups with respect to terms and conditions of employment; and

  • working positively toward a settlement.

Good-faith bargaining does not require employers to agree to specific union proposals, either in whole or in part, nor does it require employers to make counter proposals to specific union demands. However, good faith does require that both parties negotiate with the intention of concluding an agreement.

Scope of Bargaining

The scope of negotiations — the actual subject matter that management and labor may negotiate at the bargaining table — is broad. As the New York State Court of Appeals noted in its landmark Huntington decision:

“Under the Taylor Law, the obligation to bargain as to all terms and conditions of employment is a broad and unqualified one, and there is no reason why the mandatory provision of that act should be limited in any way except in cases where some other applicable statutory provision explicitly and definitively prohibits the public employer from making an agreement as to a term or condition of employment.” [1]

PERB categorizes subjects of negotiations as mandatory, non-mandatory or prohibited.[2]

The parties must, upon demand, negotiate mandatory subjects of collective negotiations, and the employee bargaining agent and the employer must jointly reach a decision. Examples of mandatory subjects are:

  • wages — all compensation paid to public employees;

  • fringe benefits — sick and personal leave time, vacation time, and medical insurance;

  • hours of work — the amount of time spent on the job;

  • seniority — preference accorded employees on the basis of length of service;

  • grievance procedure;

  • subcontracting — a decision to let out to a private contractor services currently being performed by public employees; and

  • impact on unit members of a reduction in work force.

Non-mandatory — permissive — subjects of negotiation are those issues which are negotiable on a voluntary basis. These issues do not involve working conditions and are management prerogatives. A management prerogative is an act or a decision which relates directly to the authority of a public employer to establish government policy in accordance with its public mission. Examples of non-mandatory subjects of negotiation include:

  • overall policies and mission of government;

  • residency requirements for future employees;[3]

  • employment qualifications; and

  • filling of vacancies.

Non-mandatory subjects which have been voluntarily agreed upon and incorporated into a collective bargaining agreement are deemed converted into mandatory subjects of collective negotiations.[4]

Prohibited subjects may not be negotiated under any circumstances. As noted earlier, a public employer’s obligation to bargain terms and conditions of employment is broad.

Prohibited subjects of negotiation are few, but include: retirement benefits, except the negotiation of improved retirement benefits among the options offered by the state, and subjects void as against public policy.

Local governments should recognize that they may be bound not only by the terms which are spelled out in their negotiated agreements but also by practices that have developed in the workplace over a period of years. These work conditions are called “past practices,” and if they constitute terms and conditions of employment they generally may not be changed without negotiation.

Resolution of Bargaining Deadlocks

Strikes or lockouts are sometimes invoked to break bargaining deadlocks in the private sector. The Taylor Law, which prohibits strikes, prescribes several forms of third-party intervention to resolve bargaining deadlocks. The Taylor Law also allows negotiating parties to develop jointly their own procedures for breaking deadlocks. Either bargaining party, or PERB, may declare an impasse at anytime within 120 days before the date the contract expires. Steps to Resolve Bargaining Deadlock illustrates the sequence of the three different impasse procedures in the law.

Table 1. Steps to Resolve Bargaining Deadlock
Step Police and Firefighters, New York City Transit and Miscellaneous other Public Safety Personnel Educational Personnel All Others


Impasse declared by PERB

Impasse declared by PERB

Impasse declared by PERB






Binding arbitration

Fact finding

Fact finding


Continued negotiations until agreement is reached

Legislative hearing


Legislative settlement


A mediator, appointed by PERB, acts in a confidential capacity to each side. While acting as a buffer between the parties, the mediator attempts to revive the bargaining process. If the mediator effects an agreement, the result is the same as if the bargaining parties had successfully completed negotiations on their own.

Fact Finding

PERB may appoint a fact finder who: takes evidence; may hold hearings; receive data, briefs and other supporting information; and then makes public recommendations for a settlement. Only mandatory subjects of negotiations may be taken to fact finding, unless the parties agree mutually to do otherwise. PERB encourages fact finders to mediate after they issue their reports to help reconcile remaining differences.

Legislative Hearing and Settlement

One or both parties may reject the fact finder’s recommendations. The legislative body may, after a hearing required by the law, “…​take such action as it deems to be in the public interest, including the interest of the public employees involved.” While the Taylor Law is silent with respect to the length of a legislatively imposed settlement, PERB has determined that one-year terms are appropriate. Legislatively imposed settlements are, in fact, extremely rare since the parties in most cases reach settlement through negotiations. A resolution imposed by the legislative body may not change the terms of an expired collective bargaining agreement without the union’s consent. It may, without the union’s consent, reimpose the terms of the expired agreement or impose new terms which do not change any of the terms of the expired agreement.

Board Meeting

In education disputes the Taylor Law provides that PERB may give the parties a chance to explain their positions on the fact finder’s report at a meeting at which the legislative body (i.e., the school board) or its committee is present. However, PERB views the law to mean that there is no final resolution in educational unit disputes except through agreement between the bargaining parties. In cases where the fact finder’s report does not result in agreement, PERB will make further mediation efforts at its discretion. This assistance is called “conciliation.”

Binding Arbitration

In police, fire fighter and other miscellaneous disputes, a three-member tripartite panel chosen by the parties hold hearings and decide each issue by majority vote. Only mandatory subjects may be taken to binding arbitration. Issues may be returned to the parties for further negotiation. A panel’s determination is final and binding on the employer and employees, subject to appropriate judicial review.


The Taylor Law expressly prohibits “…​any strike or other concerted stoppage of work or slowdown by public employees.” In the event of a strike:

  • PERB may order the suspension of the dues and agency shop fee check-off privileges of the employee organization upon its own finding that a strike has occurred;

  • the employer may initiate disciplinary action against individual employees involved in the strike;

  • the public employer is required to deduct two days’ pay from each striking employee for each day (or part thereof) on strike. Employees must pay income taxes on the full amount of wages lost; and

  • the public employer must seek a court injunction against the striking organization.

If an injunction is ignored, the court may impose fines against the organization and jail terms of up to 30 days against union leaders.

The Agreement

The Taylor Law requires that all negotiated contacts be in writing upon demand. When negotiations are concluded, PERB’s role is limited to serving as a repository for the final agreement. A 1977 amendment of the Taylor Law excludes PERB from any role involving enforcement of a negotiated agreement. PERB’s authority is limited to review of actions which constitute improper employer or employee practices.

Improper Practices

The orderly conduct of labor-management relations requires that all participants conform to mutually recognized and equitable standards in fulfilling their obligations under the law. As a result, the Taylor Law prohibits certain practices of management and labor, such as interference with the representation rights of employees or the orderly flow of collective negotiations.

Practices Prohibited


  • interference with, restraint or coercion of public employees in the exercise of their right to form, join or participate in, or to refrain from forming, joining or participating in, any employee organization, for the purpose of depriving the employees of such rights;

  • domination of or interference with the formation or administration of any employee organization, for the purpose of depriving the employees of such rights;

  • discrimination against any employee for the purpose of encouraging or discouraging membership in, or participation in, the activities of any employee organization;

  • refusal to negotiate in good faith;

  • refusal to continue any of the terms of an expired collective bargaining agreement until a new agreement is negotiated; and

  • using state funds to discourage union organizing.

Activities Prohibited — Employee Organizations:

  • interference with, restraint or coercion of public employees in the exercise of their right to form, join or participate in, or to refrain from forming, joining or participating in, any employee organization;

  • causing, or attempting to cause, a public employer to interfere with these employee rights;

  • refusal to negotiate in good faith; and

  • breach of its duty to fairly represent all employees in the negotiating unit.

A party which believes that one of its rights has been violated may file an improper practice charge with PERB.

The Taylor Law gives PERB broad remedial authority in issues regarding a refusal to negotiate in good faith. For example, if PERB were to find that an employer has increased the hours of work without negotiation upon contract expiration, PERB might order restoration of the old work schedule and award compensation to affected employees. On some rare occasions, PERB has found that improper practices by employers were of such magnitude as to constitute a provocation of a subsequent strike. In these cases, PERB limited the length of time the bargaining agent lost its dues and agency shop fee check-off privileges.

The major purpose of the improper practice procedure is to establish and preserve rules of fair play in the conduct of labor-management relations.

Contract Administration

It has been said that management is no more than halfway through the labor relations job when a signed agreement is achieved. While negotiation is the more visible phase of collective bargaining, the real payoff is in day-to-day working relationships.[5]

The management task is far easier when contract terms are clear and unambiguous, but even then, certain responsibilities commonly arise in all contract situations. Management shares with union officials the duty to explain and interpret new contract provisions. In addition, government officials should always be available to meet with employee representatives to learn about changing employee attitudes and problems.

Since employee organizations are the chosen representatives of the employees, government officials should take care not to bypass union agents or undermine the union’s authority.

Government officials should exercise care in the administration of a contract, because failure to do so may result in employee grievances. For this reason, larger jurisdictions often retain an employee relations staff to provide expert advice in contract administration.

Grievance Procedures

Grievance procedures provide a method for settling disputes that arise concerning the meaning or application of an existing collective bargaining agreement.

The United States Department of Labor has summarized the function of a “grievance procedure” as follows

“The essence of a grievance procedure is to provide a means by which an employee, without jeopardizing his job, can express a complaint about his work or working conditions and obtain a fair hearing through progressively higher levels of management.” [6]

The requirement that public employers in New York State establish grievance procedures predates the Taylor Law. As early as 1962, the General Municipal Law required that all public employers with more than 100 employees provide a grievance procedure conforming to specified statutory standards. Under the Taylor Law, public employers must negotiate a grievance procedure with the recognized or certified bargaining agent.

Most grievance procedures culminate in binding arbitration. This type of arbitration is called “rights arbitration,” because it involves resolution of a dispute as to an employee’s rights under an existing collective bargaining agreement. It should be distinguished from “interest arbitration” for police and firefighters in New York State, which involves resolution of a dispute over the terms of a new collective agreement. Whether or not a grievance procedure culminates in binding arbitration is a subject of negotiation.

Union Security

Union security arrangements are devices to assure the financial support of employee organizations. Union security arrangements available under the Taylor Law are the right of exclusive representation and membership dues deduction. The Taylor Law entitles all recognized or certified bargaining agents to an automatic deduction of union dues from employees’ wages once the agent obtains signed authorization cards. This helps an employee organization in two ways. First, it reduces dues collection expenses significantly. Second, it is easier and more likely for the organization to maintain a large membership because the organization does not have to rely on employees for periodic payment of dues. If an employee organization engages in an illegal work stoppage, PERB may withdraw the dues and agency shop fee check-off privilege for a period of time. However, individual employees may with draw their dues or agency shop fee authorization at any time.

The Taylor Law requires an employer to deduct an agency shop fee deduction from the salary or wages of employees in the unit who decide not to become a member of the union. An agency shop fee requires an employee who does not join a union that represents his bargaining unit to pay a service fee substantially equal to the dues of that union. The employee need not join the union. The principal rationale of the agency shop fee is that all employees should share the costs of representation incurred by the bargaining agent.

Retirement Systems

Among the fringe benefits of public employment are retirement benefits. These are long-term liabilities upon the employer, and they are also a major element of employee concern in labor management relations.

The New York State and Local Employees’ Retirement System and the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System serve as the administrators of the pension system for virtually all public employees, except teachers, outside of New York City.

Each jurisdiction participating in these systems was previously able to select from a broad spectrum of retirement plans. However, since 1976, members’ benefits generally have been determined by the date the employee becomes a member of the retirement system.

The New York State Teachers’ Retirement System covers academics in school districts throughout the state. New York City operates five retirement systems for the benefit of City employees.

The cost of a pension system depends on three variables: the number of employees covered by the plan; the salaries paid these employees; and the specific terms or benefits of the pension plan.

An increase in any of these factors has the effect of creating unfunded pension liabilities which must be amortized by an increase in the amount of money contributed to the pension system and/or increased earnings on invested assets.

While the effect of increasing the number of employees is fairly obvious, the latter two variables have a somewhat different effect. For changes in these it is necessary to increase payments to the pension system in order to compensate for past payments based on the lower previous salary rates or benefits, as well as for future payments. Thus, changes in salaries or pension benefits have a retroactive, as well as prospective effect on the costs of a pension system.


The practice of labor-management relations has matured since passage of the Taylor Law in 1967. The Taylor Law’s primary purpose was to bring order to public sector labor relations under commonly understood rules of behavior. After a period of hesitancy and confusion this goal has, to a large extent, been achieved. New relationships have developed that previously would have been unimaginable. Future changes in labor-management relations are more likely to be incremental than fundamental.

1. Board of Education of UFSD No. 3, Town of Huntington v. Associated Teachers of Huntington, 30 N.Y. 2d 122, 331 N.Y.S. 2d 17 (1972).
2. The lists of mandatory, nonmandatory and prohibited subjects in this section are drawn from PERB case law and court decisions. PERB provides full summaries on request.
3. Residency requirements for current employees are a mandatory subject of negotiations.
4. City of Cohoes, 31 PERB 3020 (1998).
5. Dale Yader, et al., Handbook of Personnel Management and Labor Relations (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1958), p. 431.
6. Collective Bargaining Agreements: Grievance Procedures (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Bulletin No. 142501, Washington, D.C., 1964), p. 1.

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