Taylor Law

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Taylor Law

United States 1967


The Taylor Law is the common name for New York State's Public Employee Fair Employment Act, Article 14 of the New York State Civil Service Law, which was enacted in 1967. It is named for the chairman of the commission that proposed it. The Taylor Law replaced the Condon-Wadlin Act of 1947, which forbade public employees from striking but made no alternative provisions for settling labor disputes, which effectively left most public employees with few legal options. The Taylor Law was first considered and enacted following a massive, illegal strike of New York City transit workers in 1966, which, among other things, destroyed any impression that the Condon-Wadlin Act did any good whatsoever.

The Taylor Law is to New York State's public sector what the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is to most private sector employees in the United States. Its relatively liberal provisions are probably in part responsible for New York State having such a high overall unionization rate (as of 2001, it had the highest in the country). It maintains Condon-Wadlin's prohibition on strikes but establishes NLRA-style procedures to settle labor disputes.

The Taylor Law, among many other initiatives that New York has come to take for granted, was mainly the child of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and it was almost named after him instead of George Taylor, the famed labor academic who led the gubernatorial committee that created it.


  • 1947: Great Britain's Labour government nationalizes coal mines.
  • 1952: Among the cultural landmarks of the year are the film High Noon and the book The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.
  • 1957: Integration of high schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, with the aid of federal troops.
  • 1962: As the Soviets begin a missile buildup in Cuba, for a few tense days in October it appears that World War III is imminent. President Kennedy calls for a Cuban blockade, forcing the Soviets to back down and ultimately diffusing the crisis.
  • 1967: Biafra secedes from Nigeria.
  • 1967: Arabs attack Israel, launching the Six-Day War, which results in an Israeli victory. Israel now occupies a number of formerly Arab-held territories, most notably the Old City of Jerusalem. In the years that follow, the Israelis will be forced to give up much of the territory, which stretches to the borders of Egypt. Their continued possession of the Jordan River's West Bank will provide a cause for enduring controversy with their Arab neighbors and with the newly mobilized Palestinian minority.
  • 1967: Racial violence sweeps America's cities, as Harlem, Detroit, Birmingham, and other towns erupt with riots.
  • 1967: The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band tops the list of releases for a year that will long be remembered as a high point of rock history. Among the other great musical events of the year are releases by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Doors, and Jefferson Airplane; also, the Monterey Pop Festival marks the debut of Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
  • 1967: Assisted by a team of surgeons, South Africa's Christiaan Barnard performs what is considered the world's first successful human heart transplant, though the patient dies 18 days later.
  • 1972: In June police apprehend five men attempting to burglarize Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.
  • 1977: Newly inaugurated U.S. President Jimmy Carter pardons Vietnam draft dodgers.
  • 1982: Israeli troops invade Lebanon in an attack on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Event and Its Context

Before 1967, public employee labor relations in New York State was informed by ideas that combined elements of democratic theory, the Civil Service merit system, and Hobbesian notions of the sovereignty of the state. In brief, the current outlook was that public employees' salaries and terms and conditions of employment were best determined by the normal political process. Most held that it would be abhorrent for public employees to negotiate formally or bargain over terms and conditions of employment, as do private sector employees, let alone to have use of the strike weapon. Failing negotiation or strikes, the only legal option left to public employees was thus to lobby the state legislature or the relevant local legislative body, as would any other interest group, or to bargain in an informal and "under the table" manner. The current political climate held that even the act of forming organizations was at least legally questionable, though of course it happened anyway. New York State's largest public employee union, the Civil Service Employees' Association, traces its origins to the pre-Taylor Law era when it was a combination lobbying group and professional association.

Despite their illegality, public employee strikes in New York did happen periodically. In response to a strike by teachers in Buffalo in 1946, the New York's state legislature codified the antistrike common law into the Condon-Wadlin Act in 1947. The act officially forbade strikes by public employees and further provided that public employees who engaged in such actions forfeited their employment. Later attempts to weaken the Condon-Wadlin Act's penalties failed.

Despite, or because of, its harshness, the Condon-Wadlin Act was heralded in many quarters. Governors of several other states wrote to New York State Governor Thomas Dewey and expressed interest in enacting similar legislation in their own states. The law was also praised in legal circles for codifying the sacred common law principles that had always prevented public employees from negotiating collectively. Organized labor tended to decry the law on the grounds that it violated the democratic rights of public employees, but their tone was often defeatist. After all, it was already illegal for public employees to strike. In a sense, the new law changed nothing.

The Condon-Wadlin system held for 20 years, though relatively few commentators appear to have ever thought that it worked. The act was resented by labor, proved almost impossible for management to enforce (it is usually regarded as impractical to fire simultaneously a significant portion of any given workforce), and in effect banned strikes without creating a legal alternative to them.

As stated, although strikes were illegal, labor tensions had of course not simply gone away, and neither had the semilegal public employee negotiations that had always occurred under the guise of lobbying before the passage of the act. (Starting in 1954, New York City had experimented with a private sector-style negotiating system, enacted pursuant to a series of mayoral executive orders.) By the late 1960s the weight of experience, empirical evidence, and the general mood of the country conspired to return public sector labor issues to the active political agenda. At that time, the governor of New York was Nelson Rockefeller.

Although Rockefeller appears to have expressed an interest in addressing public sector labor relations as early as 1965, it was a 1966 strike by New York City transit employees that truly brought the issue front and center. The strike was extremely disruptive to the city's economy and drove home the failures of the Condon-Wadlin system.

In 1966 Governor Rockefeller formed the Taylor Commission, led by famous labor academic and mediator George W. Taylor, from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Taylor was 65 years old at the time and was only six years away from his death. The credentials of the other members of the commission, E. Wright Bakke, David L. Cole, John T. Dunlop, and Frederick H. Harbison, were almost as impressive as Taylor's. The paper that the commission published on 31 March 1966, widely known and cited as the "Taylor Report," is considered a landmark in the field of labor relations. The Taylor Report adamantly defended both the right of public employees to form unions and to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment, and the right of the state to ban public employee strikes. The basic recommendations of the committee were simple, though of course the details were more complex. In brief, the committee recommended:

  • The repeal of the Condon-Wadlin Act
  • The retention of the Condon-Wadlin Act's prohibition on public employee strikes and the enactment of appropriate penalties for public employees found to be engaged in strikes or strike-like activity
  • The establishment of a new law that gave public employees the explicit right to form unions and negotiate collectively under NLRA-style rules
  • A requirement that public employers negotiate with these duly established and certified organizations
  • The creation of a Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to enforce the new law and serve in a similar capacity to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

The Taylor Report led directly into a piece of legislation that Rockefeller allowed to be called the "Taylor Act," though it was and is formally known as the New York State Public Employees' Fair Employment Act. Following a failed attempt to enact the law in 1966, wherein the New York State Assembly held up the measure in favor of an older bill on the topic, the Taylor Act was signed into law (Chapter 392 of the Laws of 1967) within days of its formal introduction in 1967. The act still stands today, albeit in amended form (New York State Civil Service Law, Article 14).

The Taylor Act made many noted improvements over the Condon-Wadlin Act and mainly followed the recommendations of the Taylor Committee. Although it retained the Condon-Wadlin Act's prohibition on public employee strikes, threats to strike, and strike-like actions (and, indeed, to this very day, that portion of the Taylor Law remains notably harsh), it enacted more realistic penalties that consisted mainly of forfeiting of income rather than forfeiting employment.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Taylor Act was by and large decried in labor circles. Some unions referred to it as the "Slave Labor Act" and refused to endorse any labor relations reform law that did not grant to public employees the right to strike. Organized labor was rather ineffectual on this issue. Opposition to the Taylor Act had no more impact on its passing than had opposition to the Condon-Wadlin Act on that bill's eventual repeal.

The Taylor Act has been amended several times since its passage, almost always with a pro-labor bent. For example, the state legislature added unfair labor practices of both labor and management in 1969. The specific list of practices mirrors almost exactly the parallel provisions of the NLRA. The state began to allow binding arbitration for local police and fire employees in 1974, and has since permitted it for other public safety and law enforcement employees. The Triborough Amendment of 1982 required that the provisions of an expired contract remain in effect until a new contract was negotiated. PERB's consistent refusal to be limited by NLRB precedents is reflected in PERB's administrative innovations to the act.

The act's infamously harsh penalties for striking, though still less harsh than those provided by the Condon-Wadlin Act, are not often enforced; typically, a union will demand a waiver of strike penalties as part of the final bargaining agreement. A violent and savage 1979 strike by New York State's corrections officers put the strike prohibition to the test. For the most part, however, regardless of early dire predictions by some commentators, the Taylor Law has succeeded in deterring public employee strikes, especially since the 1982 enactment of the Tri-borough Amendment. Threats to strike are, however, still fairly common, especially among teachers and New York City transportation workers.

Organized labor in New York State, almost exclusively under the banner of the powerful New York State AFL-CIO, has warmed to the Taylor Law over the years. The AFL-CIO's Taylor Law Task Force in 2001 issued an interim report on proposed amendments to the law that recommended only modest revisions. The report praised the law as a whole. Rarely do major Taylor Law reform proposals make their way onto the agenda of the New York State Legislature.

Key Players

Rockefeller, Nelson (1908-1979): Rockefeller was born into privilege, and his pursuit of public service was puzzled over by his famous family. He served as governor of New York from 1959 until 1973 and as vice president of the United States under Ford from 1974 to 1977. His record as governor is considered mixed.

Taylor, George W. (1901-1972): Taylor's presence affected both labor relations and its study. His reputation was already secure by the time he was called on to head up the Taylor Committee. In 1995 the United States Department of Labor inducted him into the Labor Hall of Fame. He has been called "Industrial Peacemaker."

See also: Wagner Act.



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Zimmer, Lynn and James B. Jacobs. "Challenging the Taylor Law: Prison Guards on Strike." Industrial and Labor Relations Review 34 no. 4 (July 1981): 531-544.


New York State AFL-CIO. 1998-2002 [cited 15 August2002]. <http://www.nysaflcio.org>.

New York State Governor's Office of Employee Relations.Updated 8 August 2002 [cited 15 August 2002]. <http://www.goer.state.ny.us/>.

New York State Public Employment Relations Board. [cited15 August 2002]. <http://www.perb.state.ny.us/>.

—Steven Koczak

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