Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
The Honorable Patricia D. Jehlen, Senate Chair
The Honorable Paul Brodeur, House Chair
Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development
State House, Boston
Dear Chair Jehlen, Chair Brodeur, and Members of the Committee,
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is submitting the following comments and testimony on a number of bills before the Committee at today’s public hearing. We greatly appreciate the Committee’s consideration of the local government position regarding these important policy matters concerning public sector labor law.
PLEASE OPPOSE OVERREACHING COLLECTIVE BARGAINING BILLS THAT GO FAR BEYOND THE SCOPE OF THE JANUS DECISION
The MMA opposes the following bills relating to collective bargaining dues as written, as they would provide broad changes to our state’s collective bargaining law that would disadvantage public managers and agencies:
• S. 1043, An Act relative to collective bargaining dues, filed by Sen. Boncore and others
• H. 1596, An Act relative to collective bargaining dues, filed by Rep. Chan and others
• H. 2385, An Act relative to collective bargaining, filed by Rep. Bud Williams and others
These bills purport to address a 2018 change to longstanding law when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Janus v. AFSCME regarding agency fees for employee organizations. In Janus, the court ruled that mandatory union agency fees for non-union members violate employees’ free speech rights under the First Amendment. Employees must now clearly and affirmatively consent to any payroll deductions for union agency fees. Municipal employers have worked to ensure compliance with this change.
While other states have passed narrowly-drafted legislation to address the specific issues created by Janus, the bills before the Massachusetts Legislature this session are broad and go far beyond the scope of Janus. These measures would transform a number of subject-matter bargaining issues into codified rights for unions that would undermine long-standing subject-matter precedent and past practice, removing items from the bargaining process and granting them as new rights to unions. If passed, these bills would upset the labor-management balance that has been in place under our collective bargaining law. The bills reach past the point of addressing the relationship between employee organizations and their members with respect to agency fees, by altering well-established laws and past practice that lie at the heart of labor relations in the Commonwealth. Using Janus as a springboard, the proposed legislation reaches to include provisions that would significantly alter Chapter 150E, the labor relations statute for public employees. The bills also address topics that have traditionally been the subject of collective bargaining for parties to decide at the negotiating table. In doing so, the measures would dismiss the unique nature of the various workplaces of public employees across our state. These are topics best left to the negotiating parties.
To be clear, the MMA would support a narrowly-tailored bill that addresses the core issues in Janus, and would be pleased to work with your Committee on such language. However, we strongly oppose legislation that would go beyond the scope of Janus and disadvantage cities, towns and state agencies as they seek to manage the delivery of services and implement balanced personnel and labor policies. Our specific concerns include the following issues:
Meeting During the Workday
The bills would create a mandated right for union representatives to meet with employees during the workday to investigate and discuss grievances, workplace-related complaints and other workplace issues. Workplace meetings are already included in collective bargaining agreements across our state, and paid leave for union business is often included in these agreements. This issue is best left to the negotiating parties who are intimately familiar with their own workplaces to work out the specifics of such meetings, including parameters such as the length of the meeting time, how meetings times will be scheduled and whether leave will be paid or unpaid.
Conducting Worksite Meetings During Non-working Times
The bills would create a mandated right for union representatives to conduct worksite meetings during employee breaks and before and after the workday without any further parameters. The right to conduct worksite meetings during non-working times is already included in collective bargaining agreements across our state, which often specify timing, length and scheduling that account for the unique functioning of the worksite in question. Expanding this right without deference to individual workplaces may significantly disrupt workplace operations.
Meeting with Newly-Hired Employees
The bills would create a mandated right for union representatives to meet with newly-hired employees for a minimum of 30 minutes. Collective bargaining agreements across our state already include the right to hold orientation meetings. But codifying this right by allowing a 30-minute minimum without a cap goes beyond what parties have negotiated at the bargaining table and would permit significant disruption to worksite scheduling and operations by affording a meeting of more than reasonable length. With no cap in the language, who would decide on the length? This lack of clarity would open the door to unreasonable demands with no recourse. Most importantly, the length of these meetings differs depending on the worksite. For example, a 30-minute meeting may best suit a teacher’s schedule so as not to disrupt class time and scheduling, while a 1-hour meeting may be feasible for an office employee. These matters are best left to parties who are intimately familiar with their own workplaces to decide at the bargaining table, as they have already, ensuring this right to bargaining unit employees and obviating the need to codify the right by statute, because it is already past practice.
Use of Public Employer’s Email System
The bills would create a mandated right for union members to use the public employer’s email system without any further parameters, such as specifying use for union business during non-working times and subject to the policies of the employer for computer use in general. These are important specifications for employees who work in the public sector and for public employers who monitor the use of publicly owned computers to conduct business in the workplace.
Using Government Buildings for Union Meetings
The bills would create a mandated right for union members to use government buildings to conduct meetings concerning union business. This ability is already incorporated into many collective bargaining agreements around the state, and municipal buildings already have procedures for outside organizations to reserve and use this space. Providing a blanket right to unions removes an important employer oversight with respect to the use of its public building space, and overlooks the differences among the many communities in Massachusetts.
Personal Information of Bargaining Unit Employees
The bills include a requirement that employers disclose the personal information of public employees to the employee organization, including personal cell phone numbers, date of birth and personal email addresses. Collective bargaining agreements already include procedures for employers to provide personal employee information to employee organizations. Moreover, Chapter 4, section 7, paragraphs (o) and (p) provide for the disclosure of home addresses and phone numbers to employee organizations. These allowances, together with the right to meet with employees during the workday provide employee organizations with ample opportunity to obtain personal information directly from bargaining unit employees. The unions’ desire to obtain more personal information from employees than that to which they are already entitled should not outweigh an employer’s legal position with respect to privacy laws. Excluding these provisions from the proposed legislation would still leave employee organizations with sufficient information and opportunity to contact new and current employees.
New Unfair Labor Practice Charge
These bills would create a new unfair labor practice charge if an employer fails to comply with the included provisions. The fact that municipal employers and employees have already bargained over these rights and have incorporated them into collective bargaining agreements obviates the need to create a new charge under Chapter 150E. That chapter already affords employees and employee organizations an avenue to charge an employer with an unfair labor practice in the areas addressed by this legislation.
NON-DEDUCTION OF UNION DUES FROM PAYCHECKS
The MMA opposes S. 1114, An Act relative to collective bargaining dues, filed by Sen. Rush and others. This bill would create a new unfair labor practice charge in the event an employer does not deduct dues from a union member’s paycheck. There is already a remedy for this omission through the Attorney General’s wage and hour division, an agency that is better suited to handle wage disputes, and has the capacity to respond in a swifter fashion.
CHAPTER 32B INSURANCE PLANS
The MMA strongly opposes H. 2363, An Act relative to collective bargaining representation, filed by Rep. Ryan. The last section of this bill would permit separate bargaining units to negotiate and receive differing annuity, medical, dental, life and disability insurance plans in comparison to other collective bargaining units, provided the employer contributes the same percentage of premium charges among bargaining units. This bill would reverse the gains from the 2011 municipal health insurance reform, by creating a system that would allow different bargaining units to insist on different health benefit structures. The bill could compel public employers to treat employees differently with respect to the terms and conditions of employment, and while this may be unintended or unrecognized, the creation of different health insurance structures for different bargaining units would impose a stifling administrative burden on municipalities with respect to the provision of health care. Ultimately, such a system would end up hurting taxpayers and employees who work in the public arena with respect to their benefits, because the disaggregation of risk would drive up the cost of insurance premiums, due to the increased volatility in claims experience that comes when large groups are splintered into smaller units. We ask that you oppose this section.
SALARY ESCALATORS IN COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS
The MMA opposes H. 1597, An Act relative to collective bargaining rights, filed by Rep. Chan. This bill would allow employee organizations to adopt a salary escalator equivalent to the United States Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index for the previous calendar year in the event a collective bargaining agreement is extended through an evergreen clause. Evergreen clauses permit automatic renewal of an agreement to continue for a defined period of time if the existing agreement is not renegotiated prior to its expiration, continuing the contractual terms after the expiration of the agreement. This bill would create a financial incentive for employee organizations to refuse to bargain, and would grant automatic salary increases without any bargaining. The only financial incentive to bargain would come if raises exceed the CPI, which is unaffordable for the vast majority of communities. Such a system would clearly harm taxpayers, and would destabilize municipal finances, as tax revenues and local aid can easily fall below CPI growth levels. For example, a majority of school districts only receive minimum aid, which (at $20 or $30 per student) is far below inflation. Yet under this bill, all school employees with contracts in evergreen status would automatically receive CPI-level raises under. The community would be forced to issue layoffs or slash municipal or other school services to fund this mandate.
PAID LEAVE FOR NEEDLE STICK INJURIES AND NEW PRIVILEGE FOR UNION COMMUNICATIONS
The MMA opposes H. 1653, An Act relative to needle stick injuries suffered by first responders, filed by Rep. LaNatra and others, because it would adversely impact local budgets, and H. 1679, An Act relative to the confidentiality of communications of information of labor organizations, filed by Rep. Robertson and others, because it would unduly expand legal privileges in Massachusetts.
In summary, changes to municipal employment laws have a major impact on property taxes, the delivery of essential services to the taxpayers, and the fiscal health and sustainability of local government. Massachusetts government, at the local and state level, has a long and proud history of fair conduct and strong pro-labor personnel and collective bargaining laws. We respectfully ask you to retain the current balance that is in place, and request that you protect local government’s existing authority to manage on behalf of the residents and taxpayers of our communities.
If you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me or Senior Legislative Analyst Lisa Adams at 617-426-7272 at any time.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO