The legislature passed a bill that reorganizes the three state agencies with jurisdiction over public sector employees – the Labor Relations Commission, the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration and the Joint Labor Management Committee.
Amy Laura Davidson served as Chair of the Mass Bar Association’s Labor Liaison Committee to the Secretary of Labor’s office. She was involved in the discussions that lead to the formulation of the new law.
Chapter 145 of the Acts of 2007 became law on November 15, 2007. The bill merges the Labor Relations Commission, the Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC) and the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration (BC&A) into one multifunctional agency, thereby increasing the staff available to resolve our disputes. We anticipate that the bill will expedite the processing of our unfair labor practice cases. Some of the pertinent features of the bill are:
- The Commission, BC&A and the JLMC will be consolidated into one agency known as the Division of Labor Relations.
- The Division of Labor Relations will be managed by a Director, whose role will be to establish performance standards to ensure that disputes between unions and public employers are promptly and effectively resolved.
- The Director and the Labor Relations Commissioners will be vetted by an advisory council comprised of five representatives of labor, five representative from management and three neutrals. The advisory council sends the successful nominees to the Governor who ultimately selects the candidate. [Under current law, the governor selects whomever he chooses without any nominating process or input from the parties].
- The Commission will have one full-time Chairperson and two per diem Commissioners, who will come in on an as needed basis to determine unfair labor practice cases. [Currently there are positions for three full-time Commissioners earning six figures each] The legislature will take the money saved as a result of the reduction in full-time Commissioners to invest in additional hearing officers and mediators/arbitrators
- Division Staff, while assigned primarily to one of three areas, will be re-assigned to function as hearing officers, mediators and arbitrators as needed.
- The Division will re-institute the in-person investigation procedure that existed prior to 1992. Under the current process, parties file costly and lengthy briefs of legal arguments and sworn affidavits. Under the in-person investigation procedure, the Commission holds an evidentiary hearing soon after a charge is filed. The hearing officer tries to determine if the case can be solved through mediation. If the case remains unresolved after this step, the hearing officer then determines whether to issue a complaint and schedule a formal hearing.
- The legislation re-institutes the procedure of having decisions first issued by hearing officers. Currently, the Commissioners must review and decide every case, leading to an enormous backlog of decisions, including several involving the BPPA. Under the proposed legislation, the hearing officers will decide cases first, enabling decisions to be issued more quickly.
As with any reform effort, only time will tell whether this legislation ultimately results in speedier and fairer resolution of labor disputes. At least we have a new administration and a Secretary of Labor with an interest in making the labor agencies more responsive to its constituents, namely unions and public employers.