French Vs American Labor Law and Policy

U.S. Public Sector Labor Policy

The public sector comprises the largest section of organized labor in America and continues to grow. Educators, nurses, police officers, and government employees have become heavily unionized or involved in other professional organizations. Although most of the major pieces of labor legislation exclude public employees, they will be increasingly important to understand them as governments continue to outsource administrative, strategic, and other professional work.[1]

Employees who engage in collective bargaining use a variety tactics causing slowdown, shutdown, or sick-ins. While the private sector can absorb these tactics, the public sector cannot. Often, key employees such as police or firefighters will strike at critical times, putting the public at a severe detriment for their own greed. Millions of dollars and lives are in the hands of Americas civil servants, thus effective public policy affecting collective bargaining is important to the success of the nation. The largest public sector union is organization is the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) which covers employees of local and state governments, has a membership of 1.3 million and dates back to 1936.[2] Unionization is strong at this level with some 60 percent of eligible public employees belonging to a union or other professional organization. [3].

Putting U.S. Public Sector Labor Policy on the Agenda

The issue has been put on the national agenda because of the ability for public sector unions to mobilize a bloc vote and the threat of a strike should they become unhappy with using political conditions. Public employees have bolstered their organization for both reasons involving pay and working conditions. Safety has always been a key bargaining point for many unions, especially those in hazardous occupations. Strikes are very dangerous to the public sector because they often involve first responders or employees in key positions.

For example, in 1981 13,000 professional air craft controllers belonging to PATCO went on strike attempting to leave planes to their own devices and guidance causing what could have been a national emergency, simply because they wanted better wages. President Ronald Reagan quickly fired over 70 percent of them sending a clear warning that a strike of this magnitude would not and could not be tolerated by the American Public.[4]

Key Actors Shaping U.S. Public Sector Labor Policy

Since the early 1960′s federal employees have been able to organize and engage in collective bargaining through an executive order issued by President Kennedy which granted federal employees the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. [5] This is a statement that while congress is not a key actor in shaping labor policy for the public sector, the executive branch is. However, the Presidents role in shaping labor policy changes whenever the turnover in the office occurs. Different Presidents simply have different policy prescriptions to unionization problems.

Individual states are largely responsible for state, county and municipal employee union policy and here, the state legislature does have considerable power in shaping public policy regarding unions. Many states have rejected the rights unions under what is called the privilege doctrine, it states that: employment in government is not a right but rather a privilege.[6] This is legally defensible and rooted in common law.[7]
Under the Minnesota Labor Relations Act, employers cannot intimidate or discourage union activity employees have a limited right to strike, an employer cannot institute a lockout which involves locking employees out from work, or take action against an employee for being involved in a union or other collective bargaining agency.[8]

The Future of Public Sector Labor Policy in the U.S.

Certain government employees are very difficult to replace while others can be outsourced. For example, should all the firefighters strike during a crop burning that leads to massive damage, perhaps they should be held liable for damages. In the private sector, unions and management act in an adversarial system, but in the public sector this is not so. This could mean that a manager is less likely to fire an employee simply because he is a member of the union. This leads to retention of incompetent employees and government ineffectiveness.

This is a crisis that many future administrators will face and learn to deal with. As the public sector unionization rate continues to increase even while its private counterpart decreases, key actors in public policy must began to look at how to best shape U.S. public policy to deal with public sector unionization.

Current labor policy is likely to continue at the federal level, at least until a President with an active interest in changing it emerges. However at the state level, change happens all the time. States are laboratories of democracy and can shape policies affecting those in their employ. One thing to bear in mind is that there is not a substantial labor party in the United States and this will always hinder union activity as it has less of a voice at the table.

French Public Sector Labor Policy

The French public sector is alive and very strong, with a threat of a strike looming from many areas of the public sector at all times. It is the largest sector of labor in France and unlike America; government is considered an honorable and coveted profession. In the face of recent threats of public sector work stoppages and possible violence, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has tried to keep the nation calm. “I say to everyone-be very responsible, be very calm and show a great deal of composure…This country does not need violence, manipulation on top of all the other problems it has.

However, his speeches will not make transportation systems run when they are thrown into “nationwide chaos” by disgruntled unions this fall.[9] Unionization is 5.2 million strong in France but is comprised of trade unions that are aligned under loosely under a variety of different political terms.[10] The public sector has a sense of elitism that separates it from its would be comrades in the other trade unions, however, certain events or disturbances will cause the unions to form temporary alliances and fight a common cause.

Putting French Public Sector Labor Policy on the Agenda

Part of the reason that unions are reacting so severely to is the recent public policy announcement from President Sarkozy to cut 22,000 jobs in the public sector.[11]

The French economy simply cannot afford to support needless jobs and over-inflated unionization of public sector. President Sarkozy stated that he does not want to eliminate the bureaucracy; rather he wants to make it better and sharper. “I want a public service that is smaller, better paid and with better career prospects”, he said.[12]

The political movement in France has been a conservative one for some time. It has taken over what was a socialist regime and has made strides against a resistant public sector that is use to bloated salaries and comfortable benefits.[13]

Key Actors Shaping French Public Sector Labor Policy

The key actors shaping French labor policy in the public sector are clearly the public sector, the Executive branch and to some extent the news media. Depending on how closely the unions choose to unite, they can be quite a formidable force, they have been in the past and will probably continue to be in the future. However, the Executive also sets the policy of for the nation and under former liberal and socialist regimes, policies were much more union friendly then they are now.[14]

The media chooses which side to take on the issue and while it seems that the mainstream media sources, such as the BBC, have become turned off by unionism and complaining of public servants, there seems to be a strong underground current of socialist literature that floods the web tends to defend unions and civil servants. This could also mean that the socialist party is a key actor in shaping French labor policy in the public sector as it was for some time.

The Future of Public Sector Labor Policy in the France

France is headed for a number of years that will be riddled with strikes and economic uncertainties. There exists a strong socialist culture in the public sector of France, yet there is currently a conservative administration, these two actors are clearly at odds with each other.

The outcome of the policies of the Executive will depend on whether or not the unions can build coalitions, remain strong through considerable economic strife, and regain the news media on their side. If they fail, then the executive will be successful in breaking them and the strategy of not caving in to demands will work, if they are successful, then the Executive strategy of non-cooperation will fail.

One of the two sides must break and whoever has the news media on theirs will be better suited to win this battle. Thus the policy could either remain very conservative or gradually move back towards socialist ideas. In a state on its fourth constitution, anything could happen!

Similarities Between U.S. & French Public Policy

Both France and the United States had strong Executive control over labor policy in the public sector. It seems strange the Legislative branch has very little say in the arena of the public sector in either nation. While Congress has had a large impact on unions in the private sector, it has had almost none in the public sector and is rarely even cited, the same applies for France as their private sector unions are fairly weak.

Historically, both countries have had strong public sector unions however; the massive backlash that the unions in France are facing now, already hit the American public sector in the 1980s. This has allowed for the French public sector to continue union militancy through strike and shut down, but forced U.S. civil servants to learn political tactics of achieving their goals and surviving.

U.S. Presidents and French Presidents have handled the situation much the same way, but as said, the U.S. went through it in the 1980s and France did not really start going through it until the mid 1990s. The tactics are basically the same, both countries have taken a zero tolerance policy to striking and stuck with it, and it seems to be working. Eventually, Unions in both counties will have to find new ways to survive in increasingly conservative administrations and less public support for their causes.

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