Public Employee Bargaining Rights

The map of states which allow collective bargaining for public sector employees doesn't match up well with the map of right-to-work states.

Josh Marshall provides this handy dandy map of Collective Bargaining Rights by State:

I’m not shocked that the South is less friendly to collective bargaining but I’m shocked that so many states require collective bargaining for public sector employees.  After all, 22 states are flat-out right-to-work states:

I wonder what “collective bargaining” means in Josh’s context. I can’t imagine all or even most of those states allow school teachers to strike, for example.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    I think you’re right that there is a variation in what is allowed and not allowed that defies easy categorization. Why else (according to Instapundit) did the Tennessee Senate Education Committee just vote “to abolish collective bargaining between teachers unions and school boards across the state” ?

    Either they’re making double sure that dead dog won’t hunt, or the teachers have unions.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    Wait, I see the first map has TN in the requires collective bargaining.

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    From an efficiency standpoint, it makes sense. It’s easier to just negotiate one employee contract than a thousand, and easier to avoid employee complaints about procedures if everything’s just hammered out with the union.

  4. Wiley Stoner says:

    Don’t need a contract to work for the state or local government. If you want the job and what it pays and it is offered, take it. If not find something in the private sector. Most people work without a contract.

  5. anjin-san says:

    > If not find something in the private sector. Most people work without a contract.

    That’s funny, I have one. So does pretty much everyone I work with.

  6. Brett #2 says:

    What’s odd to me is the distribution. I can understand Texas being a state where public sector collective bargaining is explicitly illegal, but why are the only other states with that type of ban the southern Atlantic Seaboard states?

  7. Axel Edgren says:

    “I’m shocked that so many states require collective bargaining for public sector employees”

    Don’t worry, just suck up to the Koch brothers a little more while tut-tutting protesters and that will be sorted out.

  8. but why are the only other states with that type of ban the southern Atlantic Seaboard states?

    Hypothesis: Plantation farmers did not want agricultural workers to unionize; those states have very weak union laws across the board.

  9. Sebastian Dangerfield says:

    Prof. Joyner,
    I’d suggest that you inform yourself on these matters before throwing around thoughts like these. If you understand what a “right-to-work” law is, you will will realize that although such laws certainly harm unions — as they forbid employers from entering into agreements that make payment of fees to a union a condition of employment, an interference with private contracting that one would think libertarians would find odious — they are in no way incompatible with collective bargaining. Moreover, your ill-informed doubts to one side, collective bargaining for state and local employees is a very complicated affair, as many states allow collective bargaining for some, but not all, public employees, and many that authorize collective bargaining have different collective bargaining schemes for different types of public workers. Generalizations are difficult unless one looks at, say, collective bargaining for teachers or police or firefighters from state to state.

  10. James Joyner says:


    We’re not in disagreement here. My point is that the TPM map doesn’t tell the full story — and I don’t know myself what the full story is, since I lack expertise in the laws of each state.

    The bottom line, though, is that “requires collective bargaining” means different things in different states. Oregon and Tennessee are both in that category but have very different attitudes towards unionization. Many of the “requires collective bargaining” states prohibit strikes, for example.

  11. Sebastian Dangerfield says:

    Indeed, but the “look how many states are right-to-work states” argument is non sequitur. Plenty of states that outlaw agency fees nonetheless have bargaining laws for at least some public sector workers.

    Another non sequitur is the notion that requiring collective bargaining is somehow vitiated by prohibiting strikes. Prohibiting strikes by public sector workers is fully consonant with requiring employers to bargain with representatives of unions. And many states that prohibit strikes have substituted binding contract arbitration to settle bargaining disputes as a substitute for economic warfare. Again, no incompatibility. With the idea of collective bargaining.

    It’s quite true — and we are in complete agreement — that the TPM map oversimplifies a much more complex picture.

  12. James Joyner says:

    All true. But “collective bargaining” conjures up images of full-scale unionization, including the right to strike. Many of the blog posts I’ve seen commenting on the TPM map take that presumption. In reality, it refers to a very wide spectrum of worker rights.

    And, again, I think at least low end collective bargaining makes sense even for very sensitive jobs like police and firefighters.