New public-employee strategy?

New attention is being focused on public-employee strikes as the result of the federal air traffic controllers' walkout and threatened teacher strikes in Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities, Monitor labor correspondent Ed Townsend reports.

Sensing a growing public resentment, public employee union leaders appear to be warming up to the idea of binding arbitration of contract disputes as an alternative to walkouts.

The Public Service Research Council says legislators are having second thoughts about state laws that sanction public employee bargaining. Eleven states have moved to repeal bargaining laws because they appear to encourage job actions or strikes, the council says.

Most state bargaining statutes were enacted in the 1960s and early '70s to allow public employees the right to join unions and bargain collectively. With the rise of union membership -- unions represented one-third of the federal workers in 1979 -- public employee strikes have also increased, Census Bureau data indicate.

Meanwhile, advocates of public employee bargaining and strikes have been encouraged by a recent court victory in West Virginia, which has no state law covering strikes by public workers. The state's highest court dismissed a damage suit brought by Fairmont, W.Va., against the union representing striking nurses at a municipal hospital, ruling against the argument that a strike in the public sector is a form of outlawed conduct.

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