~PREPARATION COMES BEFORE SUCCESS~ Tips for Preparing to Bargain your Next Collective Bargaining Agreement

Diana Moffat

From our November 2016 e-newsletter

As most of you know, my email signature line is followed by the adage:

“Preparation comes before success, even in the dictionary.”

That statement is especially true when it comes to preparing to bargain a successor Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with your union(s).

Do you have a CBA that expires on June 30, 2017? If so, now is the time to prepare. The collective bargaining process can, unfortunately, take many, many months to complete. At best, you are looking at two to five months to get things settled. At worst, much longer! There is a distinct advantage to completing the process, if at all possible, prior to the expiration of the current CBA.

Advantages to early resolution:

If you can resolve your negotiations prior to the expiration of your current CBA, you are not faced with any type of retroactive pay issues. This can go a long way for employee morale of both your employees and your payroll department. Often times, unless bargained otherwise, the retroactive increases reach back to things such as overtime calculations. This can be a small nightmare to your payroll department. And, if you have anything less than fully funded insurance premiums, with an early settlement you are not faced with the danger-zone of figuring out what your “status quo” obligations are under the Public Employee’s Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) at the time of contract expiration.

You can also use “early resolution” to your advantage in getting a settlement. Employees, and their union can be motivated to get the negotiations behind them and move forward. Once the expiration date comes and goes, that advantage is lost.

If faced with a situation of non-settlement by the date of expiration of the current CBA, you can get to mediation and/or arbitration/impasse shortly after expiration. By July and August, the waiting time to schedule mediation increases. There are only three mediators for the entire State of Oregon!

Timelines to be aware of:

Does your CBA require notice to “open” bargaining? If so, you need to meet that deadline with a notice to the union that you want to bargain for a successor CBA. Most contracts, that have a notification requirement, require notice anywhere from November to January of the final year of the contract.

The required 150-day bargaining period, under the PECBA, does not even begin until the initial proposals have been exchanged. Because of that, early scheduling can be a real advantage. If you are able to develop and present your proposals in November, December or January, you are, at worst, looking at just around the time of contract expiration for the time that you can proceed to mediation if needed.

Development of your proposals should begin sooner, rather than later. Precise contract language is of utmost importance. The development of your proposals should be done in a very thought-out fashion, with input all the way from supervisors, up to council/board members. This process takes time.

Developing your plan:

Preparation requires review of your contract to identify what is working and what needs to be changed. Each management member can give feedback.

Preparation allows you the time to decide if you want to do a comparables analysis, in conformity with the PECBA, to assess your place in the marketplace. This can take a month or, usually, more to complete.

Preparation allows you the time to look at your budget projections for your limitations or wiggle room.

During your preparations you can decide who will be your representative at the bargaining table and who will be on your bargaining team. Do your city council, county commissioners, or executive board need to be advised on the process, the rules and laws that regulate public employee collective bargaining? If so, you will have time to schedule that training. It is important that your governing body understand the rules and obligations which surround bargaining with a public employee union. There can be many danger zones, which they should be aware.

Current “Hot” issues to consider:

There are a number Oregon statutory provisions that apply to your collective bargaining efforts. But there are some very specific upcoming changes that you need to prepare for in your meetings with your union(s). PERS rates are scheduled for another big jump in 2017. Most unions tend to want to ignore these increases as just the cost to the employer of doing business. But the increases are very real cost increases to be included in your negotiations. They definitely impact your budget and they should be considered in your total cost of employee compensation analysis.

And let’s not forget about the ACA Cadillac tax. At this point those new thresholds are scheduled to go into force in January of 2020. Do you have a plan for how you will address the new thresholds? If your new CBA runs from 7/1/17 for three years, your last year of the contract will run into the year 2020. You need to consider your options during your preparation for bargaining.

Finally, the unions are still pushing for Loudermill, Garrity, and Weingarten rules to be put in CBAs, along with other provisions from the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights statute. Are you aware of the dangers of that proposition? You should seek the advice of your labor relations representative in all of these areas.

The Local Government Law Group provides representation to cities, counties and districts in their collective bargaining obligations. We can help you prepare, and bring your required negotiations to conclusion.