Positive changes made to Public Employee Collective Bargaining bills

February 4, 2020

On February 3, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee made significant changes to the Collective Bargaining bills under review in that chamber. SB 1022 (Boysko) was incorporated into SB 939 (Saslaw), which was reported and referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, 11-3, with a substitute that preserves local choice for local governing bodies. Other changes include language to remove the ability of public employees to strike and provides an exemption to constitutional officers.

VACo opposed SB 1022 in its original form, as it mandated collective bargaining for all employees. The amended SB 939 is an improvement as it preserves local choice, however, the bill does allow school boards to determine whether their employees participate in collective bargaining, regardless of whether a local governing body has passed an ordinance to opt-in to collective bargaining. Significantly, the amended bill no longer includes the employees of state agencies and provides no governance structure for any local government that wishes to allow collective bargaining.

In the House, HB 582 (Guzman) was passed by for the day after Delegate Israel O’Quinn offered a floor amendment removing employees of constitutional officers from the provisions of the bill. HB 582 will likely be heard on February 4. VACo opposes the bill as it mandates collective bargaining for public employees.

VACo requested a local Fiscal Impact Statement from the Commission on Local Government. Read the full statement here.

According to the executive summary in the statement:

“A majority of localities noted that the bill would require (i) additional staff for collective bargaining contracts including ensuring compliance, (ii) additional attorneys/legal team that specialize in labor relations, (iii) and upgrading financial/payroll system to allow management and collection of dues. They also noted that their estimated cost does not include the possible increases in benefits due to collective bargaining, but the locality that provided the highest estimate is based on difference between union and nonunion compensation, which does not take into account any benefits which could be expected to greater. Some localities noted that the bill would require increase in real estate tax rate to comply with the provisions of the bill. Of those who responded with no cost, [they] noted that [the] cost of the bill indeterminate but would be significant.”

As currently written, HB 582 removes the prohibition on local public employers (counties, cities, towns, school boards, and regional political subdivision or body politic and corporate, designated as such by the General Assembly) from entering into collective bargaining with a union or association representing their public employees.

The bill mandates that local public employers be forced into collective bargaining with their employee’s representative if 30 percent of their employees in a collective bargaining unit petition to form a bargaining unit. Additionally, the majority of the votes cast in a bargaining unit can elect to designate an exclusive bargaining representative (union or employee association) to negotiate terms of employment including grievances, labor disputes, wages, hours, and other issues. These provisions apply to nearly all State and Local public employees, except employees of the General Assembly.

The bill mandates that the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) be established but is silent on local government representation/expertise among the three-member board. Yet this board will be deciding issues involving management of local governments and employees. The PERB would also be responsible for overseeing the election of exclusive representatives once an initial petition to has been filed. Though the bill defines broad categories of state employees for the purpose of forming collective bargaining unit, the matter of local public employee bargaining units is left to the determination of the PERB.

The cost of establishing and administering the PERB for the state is indeterminate according to the Department of Planning and Budget’s fiscal impact statement. Member budget amendments from Delegate Krizek and Senator Boysko for $1.5 million have been filed, but it remains unknown if this is sufficient to cover the expenses of the PERB and staff. There is no funding in the budget or through member amendments to offset local costs.

The legislation will change the existing grievance process for public employees. This will make management difficult and costly for local government employers. Employee choice in how grievance procedures may be taken can be preempted by any agreement on the grievance procedure process contained in the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. Public employees in a collective bargaining unit can only opt out of paying union/association dues by contacting their exclusive representative.

Public employers are required to provide the personal contact information of their employees to the exclusive representative and provide a list of this updated information for all employees in the bargaining unit to the exclusive representative monthly – an additional administrative burden for local governments.

Meetings between employees and exclusive representatives could disrupt the ability of local governments to provide core services to their constituents. Exclusive bargaining representatives are granted the right to meet with employees during the workday and shall be granted at least 30 minutes of mandatory time with new hires.

The process in which collective bargaining disputes are adjudicated will likely lead to increased costs imposed on local governments. Any accusations of violation of the terms of collective bargaining brought against a public employer to the PERB must be answered within 10 days by the employer. The legislation makes an effort to define the negotiation and impasse procedures/timelines for state government and its collective bargaining units, however the process for local governments is vague.

It is problematic that there is no dedicated funding source to handle the administration of collective bargaining at the local level. Costs may include additional administrative and legal staff, negotiation with exclusive representatives, mediation, and arbitration. Without a funding mechanism this will likely lead to higher taxes and/or a reduction in existing benefits and services and has the potential to be felt in every community of the Commonwealth.

For these reasons, VACo continues to oppose HB 582 and urges you to contact your legislators to oppose it as well.

VACo Contacts: Jeremy R. Bennett and Phyllis Errico, Esq.

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