Gov. Bob Martinez (1987-1991) summarized the fundamental responsibilities of Florida government as “public health, public safety, public education and public works.” The ability of state and local governments to provide these basic services in an efficient manner has markedly eroded in recent years.
It’s no coincidence that this erosion has coincided with a period in which public employees and their unions were increasingly empowered by a series of controversial court decisions that constitutional scholars have good reason to question. Those court rulings have raised fundamental questions about the nature of government employement. For example:
Are public employees agents of the state dedicated to public service or merely laborers organized for their own economic self-interest? Can a state truly exist and exercise sovereign powers if the state cedes its own authority to outside agents who have no accountability to the public?
Both our nation and our state face these critical questions. In an era defined by the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, such questions are not topics of parlor debates or academic circles. Florida’s experience with public employee unions – how they came into being and how political leaders are grappling with these issues – presents a unique study.
This paper will summarize that issue, examining the events that led to the establishment of a “right” to collective bargaining for public employees in Florida. It will explainhow that “right” has been interpreted. It will attempt to review the implications of what collective bargaining means for state agents, whether a civil services system is compatible with unionism, and will look at recent developments.
Finally, it will attempt to answer a fundamental question: Is public employee collective bargaining in the best interests of the public, and the state?