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Texas AG Unveils Constitutional Defects with Federal Public Safety Employees Act
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July 12, 2010

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today identified multiple constitutional defects with the so-called Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, a bill pending before the U.S. Senate that would coerce state and local governments to collectively bargain with labor unions representing certain public employees.

In a letter to U.S. Senator John Cornyn (Texas), Attorney General Abbott explained that the Act violates both the Tenth Amendment and the Eleventh Amendment, and exceeds Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce.

"The federal government is attempting to intrude upon our state's authority to independently manage relations with our public employees," Attorney General Abbott said. "This law would force the State of Texas into federally mandated collective bargaining agreements with labor unions - despite the fact that state law does not authorize collective bargaining for state employees. If this constitutionally suspect legislation is passed, I will take legal action to protect our state from yet another case of federal overreach."

Attorney General Abbott added: "Washington needs to let Texans run Texas without the burdens of bureaucracy and union mandates."

As Attorney General Abbott's letter explains, by attempting to impose collective bargaining upon the State of Texas - and open the State up to lawsuits by labor unions in federal court if it fails to comply with the Act, the legislation violates the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The Act's primary purpose is to force state and local governments to give collective bargaining rights to certain public employees - and the labor unions that represent them - in violation of Texas law. Currently, Texas allows local voters to seek a referendum on collective bargaining rights for police and fire department employees. The Act pending before the U.S. Senate would ignore state law and impose a federally mandated labor relations scheme upon the State of Texas.

Under Texas' Local Government Code, local police and firefighters can obtain collective bargaining rights if they follow certain statutorily mandated steps. First, they must collect signatures from the lesser of 20,000 voters or five percent of the voting public. Once that threshold is met, then the majority of local voters are given the opportunity to vote in a referendum. If a majority of the voters elect to confer collective bargaining rights on their police and firefighters, only then do labor unions have the ability to negotiate with cities and counties on their members' behalf.

There are three basic conflicts between the Act and Texas law. First, supporters claim the Act covers so-called 'public safety' employees, the legislation would actually provide collective bargaining to multiple classes of individuals who are neither police nor firefighters - such as court employees, corrections officers and probation department staffers - despite the fact those employees do not have those rights under Texas law. Second, the Act attempts to require the state to collectively bargain with certain classes of its own employees - despite the fact that state law does not grant collective bargaining rights to anyone employed by the State of Texas. Finally, while Texas law does allow local residents to confer collective bargaining rights on their police and firefighters, the Act purports to ignore petition and referendum provisions established by the Legislature.

Attorney General Abbott said: "Our quarrel is not with the brave men and women who protect and serve the public. They deserve not only court gratitude, but also legal mechanisms to help prevent parochial concerns from interfering with their official duties. But those policy decisions - such as the availability of civil service or meet-and-confer-rights - lie with the Texas Legislature, not the federal government. And no policy initiative - no matter how important or compelling - can be allowed to trample our Constitution."

Attorney General Abbott concluded: "At the heart of our state's system is not only a labor-relations framework that was properly established by the Texas Legislature - rather than the federal government - but also an appropriate respect for local control. Under Texas' approach, local taxpayers decide based on local considerations whether to give labor unions control over their relationships with local public safety officials. If that relationship is going to be changed, it must be changed at the state level by the Texas Legislature and cannot be imposed by the federal government."



Comments:

I haven't seen the Attorney General's opinion but he more be more correct than is stated here. Recently the Congressional Research Service, Congress' own research operation, issued a report on this legislation raising serious questions about whether the Constitution's Commerce Clause would be sufficient to support this usurpation of state power.

Posted by David Denholm at 7/12/2010 2:46:00 PM

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