Tis’ the Season, the Season for Bargaining!

Diana Moffat

From our December 2015 e-newsletter

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 human resources and labor relations world the approach of the Holiday Season signals time to prepare for bargaining!

Do you have a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that expires on June 30, 2016? 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 two to five months 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 the current CBA.

Advantages to 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. And, 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’s Collective Bargaining Act 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, you can get to mediation and/or arbitration/impasse shortly after expiration. By July and August the waiting time 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.

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 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
Now is the time to review your contract to identify what is working and what needs to be changed. Each management member can give feedback.

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

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. 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? Now is the 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 of.

Current “Hot” issues to consider
There are a number Oregon statutory provisions that go into effect on January 1, such as: SB 185 regarding restrictions to employer required employee social media accounts; SB 454 regarding Oregon paid sick leave; SB 492 regarding use of sick leave for victims of domestic violence; HB 2007 regarding protection of wage information disclosure; HB 2600 regarding health insurance coverage continuation under OFLA; etc. A review of your CBA and Personnel Policies should be undertaken to confirm your compliance with those new laws.

And let’s not forget about the ACA Cadillac tax, which is the elephant in the room! Do you have a plan for how you will address the new thresholds come January of 2018?

In addition, there have been changes to the law surrounding election of remedies, when an employee is faced with a possible grievance and an EEOC filing simultaneously. There are many CBAs in Oregon right now that are not in compliance with the change of law in that area.

Finally, the unions have been 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 this area.

So, when you find yourself planning for the Winter holidays let that remind you to begin preparing for the upcoming Bargaining Season! Cheers!