By Joanna Pericone, Albany Government Law Review
In 1977 a fire damaged the building of the New York State Unemployment Insurance Department. The employees were moved to a temporary building that posed several dangerous and uncomfortable working conditions. The building was essentially unheated, electrical cords blew fuses and posed a walking hazard because they were strewn across the floor. One of the two toilets in the building was backed up and there were only two exits in the building, one of which was blocked and the other was hard to open. After the employees took their work and reported to another temporary building, their supervisor ordered them to go back to the deplorable building, but the employees refused to return. The New York Court of Appeals held that the workers had engaged in an unlawful strike, in violation of New York’s Civil Service Law, and that they were subsequently liable for sanctions imposed by their employer. Although the conditions of the workplace created a “fire trap” and the strike was prompted out of concerns for safety, the Court found this to be irrelevant; under New York’s Public Employee’s Fair Employment Act, commonly known as the Taylor Law, the reason for a public employee participating in any kind of a work stoppage is not pertinent when determining whether an unlawful strike has occurred.