Gov. Charlie Baker

Keeping a pledge to pass a bill this session to address limitations placed on labor unions by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year, the House and Senate enacted legislation nearly unanimously that would allow unions to charge nonmembers for costs associated with representation in grievances and arbitrations.

Many provisions of the bill (H. 3854), however, go well beyond the Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which prohibits public sector labor unions from charging agency fees to non-union members to cover direct costs associated with collective bargaining, contract administration, and representation of employees in grievances and arbitrations. (Janus requires non-union members to clearly and affirmatively consent before any deductions are made.)

Other provisions in the bill would significantly amend Chapter 150E, the Massachusetts labor relations statute.

H. 3854 includes several sections requiring employers to provide access to bargaining unit members, including the right to meet with employees during the workday to investigate and discuss grievances, the right to conduct worksite meetings during non-work hours, the right to meet with new employees for not less than 30 minutes, and the right to use the employer’s email system and buildings for union-related matters.

The bill also would require employers to provide union representatives with employee contact information, including home addresses, home and personal cell phone numbers, and personal email addresses on file.

In a letter to Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the MMA expressed many concerns about the legislation.

“At the expense of public employers, the bill would transform a number of matters that are currently issues that are subject to bargaining into codified rights for unions,” the MMA wrote. “As a result, the bill would grant a significant bargaining advantage to unions, without incorporating important management concerns. This could disadvantage cities, towns and state agencies as they seek to manage the delivery of services and implement balanced personnel and labor policies.”

On July 3, the bill was sent to Gov. Charlie Baker, who, due to concerns about privacy rights of public employees and statutory inconsistencies, returned the bill to the Legislature with amendments.

The governor’s amendments would:
• Limit the personal information that may be disclosed to employee organizations and require an employee’s written consent
• Make meeting with a union representative an employee’s choice
• Require compliance with employer policies for use of public email systems to conduct union business
• Remove language creating new unfair labor practices under Chapter 150E for violation of any section of the bill (Chapter 150E already provides sufficient recourse)
• Create a new unfair labor practice if personal information is used to interfere with employee rights under the labor relations statute or Chapter 180, relative to payroll deductions

The amendments would protect the privacy rights of public sector employees and require employers and employees to work together in allowing access to union representation, an approach that has been at the heart of labor relations in Massachusetts for decades.

The Legislature has yet to act on the governor’s proposed amendments.

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