The Massachusetts public employee collective bargaining law (the Law) gives most public employees at the state, county, and municipal levels the right to: (1) form, join, or participate in unions; (2) bargain collectively over terms and conditions of employment; (3) engage in other concerted activities for mutual aid and protection; and (4) refrain from participating in any or all of these activities.

When did the law take effect?
Who administers the law?
Who is covered by the law
How do employees select an exclusive bargaining agent?
Who determines an appropriate bargaining unit and on what basis is the decision made?
What rights and obligations does a recognized or certified employee organization have?
Under what circumstances may an employee organization seek an election?
How will representation disputes be resolved?
May employees decide to terminate representation by an employee organization or change representatives?
Are there specific times during which a representation petition may be filed?
What is an "agency service fee" and how does it work?
What is collective bargaining?
Who may represent the respective parties in the actual bargaining process?
What if the provisions of the bargaining agreement conflict with applicable law?
Must an employer negotiate with representatives of the bargaining unit?
Is either side required to agree?
What if the public employer and labor organization fail to reach an agreement on a new or successor collective bargaining agreement?
How does the mediation process work?
Suppose the parties still cannot agree? Will a neutral third party be brought in to make findings of fact?
After the fact-finding procedure fails to resolve the dispute, what can the parties do?
What happens if impasse exists with police or firefighters?
What is the Joint Labor Management Committee?
Once an agreement is reached, may the parties specify procedures to be used to settle disputes concerning its interpretation?

When did the law take effect?

The law was signed on November 26, 1973, and became effective on July 1, 1974.

Who administers the law?

The Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations, which has offices at 19 Staniford Street, 1st Floor, Boston, Massachusetts 02114.

Who is covered by the law?

State, county and municipal employees in the executive and judicial branches of government and employees of certain Authorities may bargain collectively, with the exception of managerial and confidential employees who are specifically excluded from coverage. Employees may be designated as managerial only if they participate to a substantial degree in the formulation of policy, assist to a substantial degree in collective bargaining, or have a substantial, independent, appellate role in personnel or contract administration. Employees may be designated confidential only if they directly assist and act in a confidential capacity to a person excluded from the Law's coverage.

REPRESENTATION RIGHTS

How do employees select an exclusive bargaining agent?

By majority action. The Department of Labor Relations is authorized to direct an election by secret ballot to determine the exclusive representative whenever (1) one or more employee organizations claim to represent a substantial number of employees in an appropriate unit; (2) an employee organization petitions the Division alleging that a substantial number of employees wish to be represented by the petitioner; or (3) a substantial number of employees in a bargaining unit allege that the exclusive representative no longer represents a majority of the employees.

Pursuant to Chapter 120, Section 3 of the Acts of 2007, which became effective on December 26, 2007, the Department of Labor Relations is also authorized to certify, and a public employer is required to recognize as the exclusive representative for the purpose of collective bargaining of all employees in the bargaining unit, an employee organization which has received a written majority authorization. A written majority authorization is defined as writings signed and dated by employees in the form of authorization cards, petitions, or other written evidence that the Division finds suitable in which a majority of employees in an appropriate bargaining unit designates an employee organization as its representative for the purpose of collective bargaining and certifies that designation to be its free act and deed, given without consideration. Employee signatures must be dated with in the 12 months preceding the date on which the employees' representative presents the cards or petition to the Division. This procedure applies only in situations in which no other employee organization has been and currently is lawfully recognized as the exclusive representative of the employees in the appropriate bargaining unit.

Who determines an appropriate bargaining unit and on what basis is the decision made?

The Department of Labor Relations is authorized to determine appropriate bargaining units giving due regard to such criteria as community of interest, efficiency of operations, and safeguarding effective representation.

What rights and obligations does a recognized or certified employee organization have?

The exclusive representative is authorized to negotiate agreements covering all employees in a bargaining unit and must represent all such employees fairly in contract negotiation and administration.

Under what circumstances may an employee organization seek an election?

Generally, an employee organization filing a petition for certification must satisfy the Department of Labor Relations that at least 30% (50% if the employees are currently represented) of the affected employees desire to be represented by that organization.

How will representation disputes be resolved?

An appropriate petition must be filed with the Department of Labor Relations asking that it direct an election to be held. All employees vote in secret and the choice is made by a majority of valid votes cast.

May employees decide to terminate representation by an employee organization or change representatives?

Yes. A petition may be filed with the Department of Labor Relations by or on behalf of a substantial number of employees in a unit alleging that the exclusive representative no longer represents a majority of the employees within the unit and asking that the Division of Labor Relations direct an election to be held to determine the exclusive representative.

Are there specific times during which a representation petition may be filed?

Yes. Generally, the Department of Labor Relations will not entertain a petition during the term of a valid collective bargaining agreement, unless the petition is filed no more than 180 days and no fewer than 150 days (no more than 90 days and no fewer than 60 days for petitions filed pursuant to M.G.L. c.150A) prior to the expiration of the agreement. The Department will not entertain petitions filed during the first twelve months after an election, certification, and certain voluntary recognition agreements and will not entertain petitions filed by unions within the first six months following the withdrawal of a petition or a disclaimer of interest in the employees.

What is an "agency service fee" and how does it work?

An "agency service fee" is an amount that an employee organization may charge employees in its bargaining unit who are not members of the organization for their proportionate share of the costs of collective bargaining and contract administration. A nonmember who believes the amount of the service fee demanded by the union exceeds that "proportionate share" may file an unfair labor practice charge with the Division. The fee payer may also challenge the "validity" of the demand on certain grounds set forth in Division regulations or case law.
 

THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING PROCESS

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the mutual obligation of employers' and employees' representatives to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, standards of productivity and performance, and other terms and conditions of employment, or the negotiation of an agreement, or a question arising under an agreement.

Who may represent the respective parties in the actual bargaining process?

The parties may be represented by a person or persons of their own choosing at the bargaining table.

What if the provisions of the bargaining agreement conflict with applicable law?

If there is a conflict between the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement and certain statutes enumerated in Section 7(d) of the Law, ordinances, by-laws or regulations, the terms of the agreement prevail. The enumerated statutes, etc., deal essentially with wages and/or "working conditions."

Must an employer negotiate with representatives of the bargaining unit?

Yes. The employer and exclusive bargaining representative must, upon demand, negotiate in good faith with respect to wages, hours, standards of productivity and performance, and other terms and conditions of employment. No public employer may exempt itself from the operative provisions of the law.

Is either side required to agree?

No. But both sides must bargain in good faith, and either reach agreement or an impasse. If an agreement is reached, it must be reduced to writing and executed by the parties.
 

IMPASSE--WHAT THEN?

What if the public employer and labor organization fail to reach an agreement on a new or successor collective bargaining agreement?

The law prohibits public employees from striking. It also prohibits public employers from unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment. The Division of Labor Relations administers procedures for resolving collective bargaining impasses under the public employee collective bargaining law. These procedures comprise mediation, fact-finding and interest arbitration. Impasse resolution services for police and firefighters are provided by the Joint Labor-Management Committee (JLMC).

How does the mediation process work?

After a reasonable period of negotiation, the parties acting individually or jointly may petition the Division of Labor Relations for the determination of an impasse and the initiation of mediation. Upon receipt of this petition, the Division of Labor Relations commences an investigation to determine both if the parties have negotiated for a reasonable period of time and if an impasse exists.

Once an impasse is found, the Division appoints a mediator to assist the parties in reaching agreement. In some instances, the parties themselves agree upon a mediator.

Suppose the parties still cannot agree? Will a neutral third party be brought in to make findings of fact?

If the dispute survives the best efforts of the mediator, the mediator will recommend to the Division of Labor Relations that the case be certified to fact-finding when either or both parties have requested fact-finding.

A fact-finder will generally be selected from a list of fact-finders sent to the parties by the Division. If the parties cannot agree, the Division will appoint a fact-finder. The fact-finder's primary responsibility is to preside at fact-finding hearings and issue a written report with recommendations for resolving all issues in dispute. The fact-finder has the authority to mediate the dispute at the request of both parties.

Within thirty days after the appointment, the fact-finder must submit his or her report to the parties and the Division. The recommendations contained in the report are advisory and do not bind the parties. If the impasse remains unresolved ten days after the receipt of the findings, the Division is required to make them public.

After the fact-finding procedure fails to resolve the dispute, what can the parties do?

Normally, if the impasse continues after the publication of the fact-finder's report, the issues in dispute go back to the parties for further bargaining.

The law, however, allows the employer and employee organization to enter into arbitration of contract impasse issues, provided they both agree to do so. This voluntary interest arbitration binds the legislative body only in those cases where the legislative body has agreed in advance to be bound by the arbitrator's award. The parties may agree to any form of arbitration that suits their interest.

What happens if impasse exists with police or firefighters?

Effective March 20, 1988, Chapter 589 of the Acts of 1987 went into effect. This law gives the Joint Labor-Management Committee (JLMC) the power to resolve collective bargaining impasses through interest arbitration awards, which are final and binding on the public employer if they are supported by substantial evidence and are funded by the legislative body. The statute sets forth certain guidelines for determining interest arbitration awards.

What is the Joint Labor Management Committee?

The Committee is composed of twelve members, plus a chairperson and a vice-chairperson. Twelve members are appointed by the governor: three from nominations by firefighter unions, three from nominations by police unions, and six from nominations by the governor's Local Government Advisory Committee. The Joint Committee nominates the chairperson and vice-chairperson.

In addition to overseeing police and firefighter negotiations, the Committee may, at its discretion, take jurisdiction in any dispute over the negotiation of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement involving municipal firefighters or police officers.

The Committee or its representatives may meet with the parties to a dispute, conduct formal and informal conferences, and take other steps to encourage the parties to agree on the terms of a contract or procedures to resolve the dispute. Some of these procedures include mediating, monitoring negotiations, conducting hearings, and ordering arbitration.

Once an agreement is reached, may the parties specify procedures to be used to settle disputes concerning its interpretation?

Yes. The parties may include in any written agreement a grievance procedure culminating in final and binding arbitration to be invoked in the event of any dispute concerning the interpretation of the agreement. If a collective bargaining agreement does not include final and binding grievance arbitration, the Division may order binding arbitration of any grievance arising under the terms of the agreement upon the request of either party to the agreement.

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