Collective Bargaining Rights

Often referred to as contract negotiations, collective bargaining is the process, act or “art” of negotiating a labor agreement between OSEA (your union) and your employer. Law requires collective bargaining for employers and employee unions when employees have either voted in an election conducted by the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) or the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), or the employer has voluntarily recognized the employees’ union.

Public employees in Oregon are covered under the provisions of ORS 243.650, the Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA), and the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) cover employees of private employers. While PECBA is, in many ways, modeled after the NLRA, there are some important and distinct differences which affect the scope of what may be negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement. PECBA also provides time limits and thresholds which must be met before any concerted activity can be engaged in should parties fail to reach an agreement.

Here is what PECBA has to say about collective bargaining:

(4) “Collective bargaining” means the performance of the mutual obligation of a public employer and the representative of its employees to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to employment relations for the purpose of negotiations concerning mandatory subjects of bargaining as defined in this section, to meet and confer in good faith in accordance with law with respect to any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of a collective bargaining agreement and to execute written contracts incorporating agreements that have been reached on behalf of the public employer and the employees in the bargaining unit covered by such negotiations. The obligation to meet and negotiate does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or require the making of a concession. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit a public employer and a certified or recognized representative of its employees from discussing or executing written agreements regarding matters other than mandatory subjects of bargaining that are not prohibited by law, so long as there is mutual agreement of the parties to discuss these matters that are permissive subjects of bargaining.

And when we want to know just exactly what we have the right to bargain over, PECBA gives us this to work from:

(7)(a) “Employment relations” includes, but is not limited to, matters concerning direct or indirect monetary benefits, hours, vacations, sick leave, grievance procedures and other conditions of employment.

(b) “Employment relations” does not include subjects determined to be permissive, nonmandatory subjects of bargaining by the Employment Relations Board prior to June 6, 1995.

(c) After June 6, 1995, “employment relations” shall not include subjects which the Employment Relations Board determines to have a greater impact on management’s prerogative than on employee wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment.

(d) “Employment relations” shall not include subjects that have an insubstantial or de minimis effect on public employee wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.

(e) For school district bargaining, “employment relations” shall expressly exclude class size; the school or educational calendar; standards of performance or criteria for evaluation of teachers; the school curriculum; reasonable dress, grooming and at-work personal conduct requirements respecting smoking, gum chewing and similar matters of personal conduct; the standards and procedures for student discipline; the time between student classes; the selection, agendas and decisions of 21st Century School Councils established under ORS 329.704; and any other subject proposed that is permissive under paragraphs (b), (c), and (d) of this subsection.

(f) For all other employee bargaining except school districts, “employment relations” expressly excludes staffing levels and safety issues (except those staffing levels and safety issues which have a direct and substantial effect on the on-the-job safety of public employees); scheduling of services provided to the public; determination of the minimum qualifications necessary for any position; criteria for evaluation or performance appraisal; assignment of duties; workload when the effect on duties is insubstantial; reasonable dress, grooming and at-work personal conduct requirements respecting smoking, gum chewing and similar matters of personal conduct at work; and any other subject proposed that is permissive under paragraphs (b), (c), and (d) of this subsection.

As you might imagine, employers and unions will, from time to time, disagree about what all this means. This is where the ERB steps in to settle disputes and clarify for us what we can and cannot do.

But before any negotiation begins, there are some very important things to know and tasks to complete. It is at this point where professional assistance from your OSEA field representative is at its highest importance. OSEA field representatives are trained and skilled in the art of collective bargaining, in most cases acting as the chief spokesperson for your chapter at the negotiations table. They also provide your bargaining team with the training necessary to go through the process of bargaining a contract from start to finish. Successful contract negotiations depend on many factors but, at the end of the day, the key to the amount of success you have at the table is in the unity and strength of your members. Just remember the old adage: “United we stand, divided we fall.” For collective bargaining, we could rephrase this as “United we bargain, divided we beg.”

Ultimately, a strong union contract will grant, strengthen and protect employment rights; improve your working conditions; and increase your standard of living. And, when these things happen, everyone wins–yes, even your employer (although they may not admit it).