What You Need to Know About Collective Bargaining in Minnesota

What You Need to Know About Collective Bargaining in Minnesota

Minnesota is not a “right to work” state. State legislation allows for collective bargaining on behalf of employees by a union representative. The only requirement is that the employees covered are members of the union and pay dues. This legislation applies to both public and private employers.

Workers have the right to form a union based on the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and supersede state laws in the areas it covers. Areas not covered by NLRA are the rights of public and private employees who are not engaged in interstate commerce. The Minnesota Labor Relations Act (MLRA) guarantees private-sector employees’ right to create a union, bargain collectively on behalf of the employees, and strike when necessary. 

Navigating these labor laws can be confusing and feel overwhelming when creating a union and using collective bargaining to protect employees. This article outlines what you need to know about collective bargaining in the state of Minnesota.

Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA)

The PELRA establishes rules in Minnesota for collective bargaining between public employers and the representatives of public employees. It grants the right to unionize and bargain collectively, sets criteria for establishing bargaining units, provides procedures for the election of representatives, and outlines strategies for resolving conflict.

The PELRA outlines the rights of public and private employees. You have the right to:

  • Create and become a member of a labor union;
  • Support the union, distribute literature, organize employees and provide membership cards to be signed;
  • Hold and participate in meetings to join a union; Distribute union flyers and brochures in non-work areas during breaks and lunch;
  • Join together with coworkers to petition and protest unfair treatment or demand improvements in wages, hours, and working conditions;
  • File complaints against your employer;
  • Wear union clothing, including buttons, stickers, hats, and t-shirts;
  • Designate a union to represent you and your coworkers by voting with a secret ballot to represent employees to bargain grievance procedures and employment terms.

5 Things You Need to Know About Collective Bargaining in Minnesota

1. A bargaining unit chooses whether or not to be represented by a union

Most executive employees who can be unionized have chosen to be. About 90% of the state workforce is unionized. AFSCME, the largest state employee union, represents seven of seventeen bargaining units. These units represent approximately 17,000 employees. The Minnesota Association of Professional employees is the next largest union and represents over 13,500 employees. These unions represent both full-time and part-time employees.

2. PELRA requires employers to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment

When the employer and union meet and negotiate in good faith, it does not compel the parties to agree to a proposal. The Commissioner of Management and Budget is considered the “employer” when bargaining with state employees.

The PELRA statute defines employment terms and conditions as including hours of employment, compensation (including benefits), and policies affecting working conditions. This does not require a public employer to negotiate on managerial policy, such as:

  • Functions and programs of the employer
  • Overall budget
  • Use of technology
  • Organizational structure
  • Selection and direction of personnel

PELRA prohibits bargaining regarding pension benefits as they are established by other legislation.

3. PELRA sets procedures for resolving conflict

When a conflict arises and a resolution cannot be reached, the first step is to participate in mediation. During this process, a mediator from the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) works with both sides to reach an agreement.

Binding arbitration is another tool for resolving conflict. It establishes the terms of a contract and is only available if the employer and union agree to use it. For those employees considered as essential, the union has the right to send the matter to arbitration if the BMS determines that good-faith bargaining has occurred and a conflict still exists. 

PELRA specifies the procedures to select an arbitrator. Once an award is determined, it is binding for both the employer and the union. While essential employees may not strike, non-essential employees have the right to strike when a contract expires and procedural notice requirements are met. 

4. The Legislature must approve agreements between the state and employee unions

There are seventeen executive branch bargaining units for specific occupations. For example, clerical employees are assigned to one bargaining union, and registered nurses have another. There were over 100 bargaining units for executive employees before 1980, with employees in different agencies and geographical locations assigned to other units. For example, nurses of the state human services system were assigned to one unit, and nurses in the state correctional system in another.

Once approved by the legislative subcommittee on employee relations, contracts are in effect temporarily. The approved agreements are then sent to the next session of the legislature to be ratified. The contract can be rejected, and a new agreement has to be submitted.

5. Unions and Workers’ Compensation can still be challenging to navigate

Even with union representation, workers’ compensation can be challenging to obtain and navigate. While employers are required to carry workers’ compensation, there may be conflicts regarding how compensation is applied and for what injuries. If you’ve been injured on the job, the Sundquist Law Firm has the experience and expertise to provide you options and representation. 

Sundquist Law Firm will fight on your behalf for the compensation that is due to you. You do not deserve to be brushed off by your employer or the insurance company. Contact us today for a free consultation.