Mayor Bloomberg is as frustrated as anyone about the depressing lack of interest in passing stronger gun control laws in the wake of the Aurora shootings and similar massacres. After calling out President Obama and Mitt Romney on Sunday, Bloomberg stepped up the rhetoric on Piers Morgan last night by calling on police officers around the country to strike:>
“I don’t understand why the police officers across this country don’t stand up collectively and say ‘We’re going to go on strike. We’re not going to protect you unless you, the public, through your legislature, do what’s required to keep us safe.’ After all, police officers want to go home to their families, and we’re doing everything we can to make their job more difficult but more importantly more dangerous.”
We highly doubt Bloomberg actually wants a nationwide police strike to take place, because he is not insane. He was just making an absurd suggestion to illustrate how our lax gun control laws endanger police more than they do the average citizen. But was his suggestion illegal?
You may be familiar with the Taylor Law for its prohibition on strikes by public employees, such as teachers, transit workers, and, yes, police officers. But the law also declares that “no public employee or employee organization shall cause, instigate, encourage, or condone a strike.” Bloomberg is a public employee, no? And he appears to be encouraging a strike? Not that we expect Bloomberg to be brought up on charges or anything, but still, he’s the mayor! He’s not supposed to be violating the law.
We’re no experts in the Taylor Law, though, so we talked to a couple guys who are, such as Alex Colvin, the chairperson of the Department of Labor Relations, Law, and History at Cornell’s School of Industrial Labor Relations. “He’s certainly encouraging the police officers to violate the law, I think that’s clear,” Colvin tells us. However, Colvin adds, the prohibition on encouraging strikes was written with union members and union leaders in mind, not just any public employee with an opinion. “You could try to make an argument that a literal reading would suggest that, as a public employee, he’s engaging in this,” Colvin says, “but it’s certainly going well beyond the original intent of the Taylor Act.”
Larry Cary, a partner at the midtown law firm of Cary Kane with decades of experience in the field of labor law, is similarly unconvinced, but for different reasons. While Bloomberg could theoretically be considered a public employee — earning all of $1 a year — in the context of the Taylor Law, Cary says, he’d be considered a public employer. Public employers are also not allowed to “authorize, approve, condone or consent” to a strike by public employees. Still, Cary doesn’t think Bloomberg’s remark quite reached that level.
“His statement is not phrased as encouraging, it’s phrased as he ‘doesn’t understand’ why this doesn’t happen,” Cary told us, “which from an injunction point of view would be language which would not be enjoinable, because it does not directly authorize, approve, condone, or consent. It’s a statement of — it’s a First Amendment statement of opinion.” However, Cary suggested the same remarks could be found to violate the Taylor Law had they been uttered by, say, a police union president at a membership meeting.
So it appears that, with the help of context and some verbal hair-splitting, Bloomberg just barely stayed on right side of the law. Nevertheless, if he’s going to continue advocating a police strike, he should probably pick his words carefully.