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Lawmakers Consider Equal Protection for State Workers

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May 4, 2007

New York lawmakers are considering a measure that would restore state employees' rights to sue their employer. They lost that right after a series of Supreme Court rulings in the early 90s said states could not be forced to follow laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act, which has been on the books since 1938. Fred Floss with United University Professions says those the labor rules have worked well over a long period of time, and it's unfair that state workers like college professors no longer share in those protections.

“It seems very strange to us that the one group of people who are teaching other people to be able to use these laws across New York state, would be the only people that wouldn't be covered by those laws.”

The Assembly is considering a measure in which New York would waive its immunity protection and allow state workers to take legal action on such issues as family leave, age discrimination in employment, fair labor standards and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Minnesota, Illinois and North Carolina have already passed measures waiving their immunity from certain civil rights and labor lawsuits, and now Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton of Cortland would make New York the 4th state to act.

“States' rights have too often meant states' wrongs. We're all one people under federal law. On these important provisions, Spitzer, as attorney general, weighed in saying that this is not a case where we should be talking about the sovereign immunity of the state.”

Her measure already has 40 co-signers, and Lifton says that's because her bill simply seeks to give state workers the same legal rights as workers in the private sector.

“There's a real discrepancy here. Business has to live by these federal laws. People can go to court if they feel that their employer has discriminated against them because of disability, hour and wage, or working condition violations and so on. It's just wrong -- wrong to have private sector employees covered and not public sector employees.”

Michael Clifford/Eric Mack, Public News Service - NY