Tis the Season for Bargaining

Diana Moffat

What does the Holiday Season mean to you? Gathering with family and friends? Lots of good food? Lots of shopping? Getting ready to ring in a New Year? Gearing up for bargaining season? Yes! In the world of public sector government, the approach of the Holiday Season signals time to prepare for union collective bargaining! How exciting!!
Do you have a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that expires on June 30, 2024? If so, NOW is the time to act. The Collective Bargaining process can, unfortunately, take many, many months to complete. At best, you are looking at a two-to-five-month process of getting things settled. At worst, much longer! There is a distinct advantage to completing the process, if at all possible, prior to the expiration of your current CBA.

Advantages of early resolution

  • If you can resolve your negotiations prior to expiration, you are not faced with any type of retroactive pay issues. This can go a long way with employee morale for both your regular and payroll employees.
  • Often times, unless bargained otherwise, the retroactive increases reach back to overtime calculations. This can be a small nightmare to your payroll department.
  • If you have anything less than fully funded insurance premiums, you are not faced with the danger-zone of figuring out what your “status quo” obligations are under the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act.
  • You can use “early resolution” to your advantage in getting a settlement.
  • If faced with a situation of non-settlement, you can get to mediation or arbitration/impasse shortly after expiration. By July and August, the waiting time for these processes greatly increases. There are only three mediators for the entire State of Oregon.
  • Timelines

  • 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.
  • The required 150-day bargaining period, under the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (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 January or February, 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 early on. Precise contract language is of utmost importance. The development of your proposals should be done in a very thought-out fashion, with input from supervisors to Council/Board members. This process takes time.
  • Developing your plan

  • Now is the time to review your current CBA to identify what is working and what needs to be changed. Are there any needed legal updates? Has your labor counsel reviewed your CBA for ambiguous language? Are there any MOUs that need to be incorporated into the main CBA?
  • Now is the time to decide if you want to do a comparable analysis, in conformity with the PECBA, to assess your financial place within the market.
  • Now is the time to look at your budget projections for your limitations or wiggle room.
  • Now is the time to decide who will be your representative at the bargaining table and who will be on your bargaining team.
  • Does your governing body need to be advised on the process, the rules, and laws that regulate public employee collective bargaining? Now is the time to schedule that training.
  • Current “hot” issues to consider

  • Paid Leave Oregon (PLO) is the 10,000-pound elephant! This statutory change became effective on January 1st. PLO proposals have already appeared in dozens of union bargaining proposals during 2023. You can be sure that the unions will continue to pursue them. It is important for you to understand what you do and do not need to bargain with the union.
  • Insurance language is still a concern for some employers. Have you reviewed the insurance language in your CBA to see how your contract stands up to potential future litigation if there are mid-term plan changes?
  •     – Do you have the dreaded “equal to or better” language?
        – Do you have something along the lines of “substantially similar?”
        – Do you know what that obligates you to do?

  • Have you reviewed your CPI index language? Many public sector employers have ambiguous CPI index language. Bargaining is the ideal time to clarify the index with specificity.
  • When you find yourself planning for the Holiday Season, let that remind you to begin preparing for the upcoming union collective bargaining season as well!