State labor board would be rigged

Legislation that has passed the Minnesota House and is moving through the Senate would create a new state employment board with broad legal and regulatory powers to settle disputes between public employers and government employee unions. HF 3014, which passed the House earlier this month, calls for the state to establish a three-member unelected Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to settle disputes involving alleged Unfair Labor Practices. Its senate companion bill, SF 2506, is moving through the committee process.

The PERB would essentially function as a state version of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), though its jurisdiction would be limited (at least initially) to public sector disputes, specifically unfair labor practices. Unfair labor practices can involve anything from an employer’s alleged noncompliance with a grievance procedure to a refusal to meet and negotiate in good faith with a union.

While the board’s jurisdiction may be somewhat limited, its powers would be substantial. As the fiscal note for HF 3014 summarizes, "Remedies provided for in the bill include cease and desist orders, reinstatement of public employees with full back-pay (plus interest), and compensatory damages up to three times the amount of actual damages."

The driving forces behind the legislation, as you may have guessed, are government employee unions, which stand to gain a great deal from the proposal. Unions would be able to avoid the cost and hassle of bringing disputes before a district court, and their chances of prevailing before the PERB would likely be much higher than in court. That’s because the legislation gives Big Labor a seat at the table, literally.

The legislation calls for one member of the three-member board to be an officer or employee of a government union (and appointed by the governor), one member to represent public employers (and be appointed by the governor), and the final member to be appointed by the other two.

Given the rigged nature of the proposed board, unions would likely file an increasing numbers of unfair labor practices complaints. The fiscal note for HF 3014 seems to acknowledge as much: "To determine the expected number of cases handled by the board the last 10 years of unfair labor practices were reviewed. On average there were 8.8 cases with a high of 17 in 2005 and a low of 4 in 2008. The bill lowers the cost barrier to filing unfair labor practice charges because it does not require a district court filing. It’s not possible to accurately predict the number of cases under the bill. For this estimate we assume that in the first two operating years there would be an average of 20 cases per year. This number is very likely to rise in future years."

And in case there was any doubt that the PERB would indeed be rigged, the House actually rejected an amendment that would have required board members to "have completed necessary training to be a qualified neutral" party.

The fate of the legislation is up for debate; the legislature’s fealty to union bosses is not.

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