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Do public employees have a right to collective bargaining?

From NBC's Pete Williams
Do teachers have a right to engage in collective bargaining? There's no federal constitutional right involved, so when it comes to public employees like teachers, it's up to each state.


Protesters bang drums and shout slogans inside the state Capitol Monday in Madison, Wis. Opponents to Gov. Scott Walker's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers are taking part in their seventh day of protesting.

Since 1935, when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act, private employees have had the legal right to unionize and bargain collectively. But that law left to individual states the decision of whether to give the same right to their public employees. 

Most states did so, with 34 specifically requiring school districts to engage in collective bargaining with government workers, and 11 others allowing collective bargaining. In those 45 states, including Wisconsin, laws specify which issues can be subject to bargaining, such as pay, benefits, hours, and tenure. The other five states -- Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia -- prohibit collective bargaining by any public employees, including teachers.

Wisconsin was the first state to give collective-bargaining rights to public employees, doing so in 1959. The bill supported by Gov. Scott Walker would take away the right of state-government workers to bargain for anything but pay increases. If it passes, Wisconsin would become the first state in decades to roll back collective-bargaining rights.

At least eight other states are considering something similar. Proposals in Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio would limit the range of issues subject to bargaining. Other bills in Michigan, Nebraska, and Tennessee would eliminate the right to engage in collective bargaining.