Amid the many bills approved in the 2014 legislative session is a measure that significantly streamlines the state’s public employee collective bargaining process.

On May 9, Governor Mark Dayton signed legislation establishing a Public Employee Relations Board. It was one of the most significant amendments to the state Public Employment Labor Relations Act since its adoption in the early 1970s.

The new board will hear unfair labor practice cases previously handled in the court system. Proponents, which include many public employee unions, said this change will save both time and money for taxpayers and public workers.

The new process “is a useful tool for labor and management – without breaking the bank,” said Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, the largest state employees’ union.

Unfair labor practices are violations of the state public employee labor law. In the years since public employees won bargaining rights with the adoption of PELRA, “the process of bringing charges through district court was very expensive, cumbersome and time consuming,” said Sami Gabriel, president of DRIVE, the Teamsters’ political action organization.

“The typical cost for a labor union to bring a charge was $50,000 to $75,000, and could take years for a decision,” she said.

Taxpayers also were footing a hefty bill, noted Seide. He gave the example of the City of Bloomington, which spent $150,000 in legal fees to fight union organizing by 23 city employees.

In addition to saving money, the board is expected to speed up the process of resolving such disputes.

The new process mirrors the way unfair labor practices are handled in much of the private sector through the National Labor Relations Board.

The Public Employee Relations Board will be created July 1 and will have three members. Two of them – one each representing employers and workers – will be appointed by the governor. The third, representing “the public at large” will be appointed by the other two members.

The law also provides for alternate members to be appointed in cases in which a member has a direct conflict of interest.

The commissioner of the state Bureau of Mediation Services is tasked with calling the first meeting of the board and assisting it in its initial operations.

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