Focus on New Laws: Changes to Public Employment Labor Relations Act

July 7, 2023

Cities should be aware of changes to Minnesota’s Public Employment Labor Relations Act.

A series of laws were passed during the 2023 legislative session, contained in Regular Session Chapter 53, relating to the Public Employment Labor Relations Act. The new law was signed by Gov. Tim Walz and went into effect on July 1, 2023.

Staff ratios added to terms and conditions of employment

Minnesota Statutes, section 179A.07, subdivision 1, which relates to the activities that are inherent managerial rights for public employers, was amended to remove “number of personnel” from the list of what a public employer is not required to meet and negotiate on as inherent managerial policy.

This law also added “staffing ratios” to Minnesota Statutes, section 179A.03, subdivision 19, which is the list of terms and conditions of employment in which a public employer has an obligation to meet and negotiate under Minnesota Statutes, section 179A.07. While the appropriate interpretation and impact of this staffing ratios change is still open to debate, if a city is asked to negotiate staffing ratios, it is strongly recommended that a city consult with their labor attorney or city attorney on how to respond.

Practically speaking, cities that currently have the number of personnel listed in their union contracts as a specific management right can, and should, argue that it is still a management right for that city because it was obtained through agreement of the parties, rather than application of the statute. The public sector labor law specifically provides that the duty to meet and negotiate in good faith does not mean that the city is compelled to agree to a union proposal or require the making of a concession.

Payroll dues deduction authorization

In 2023, the Legislature changed the law on dues deduction. Previously, cities commonly received requests from employees to cancel the automatic withholding, which the employees authorized, and cities considered that new instruction from the employee as binding. Unions argued that employees could only withdraw that consent during a specific time period.

The common city response was that was a matter between the employee and the union. The new law states that the city must rely on information from the exclusive representative stating that the employee has provided a signed authorization for the dues deduction (and political fund) to occur. This is a matter that is no longer controlled through communication and written authorizations between the city and employee.

The city has protection in this area, as the exclusive representative must indemnify the city, including any reasonable attorney fees and litigation costs for any successful claims made by the employee for unauthorized deductions made in reliance on such information provided by the union.

Deductions can be made for the exclusive representative and the political fund associated with the exclusive representative. This authorization may be made by using an electronic signature and remains in effect until the union notifies the employer of a change or cancellation. Employers are required to begin deductions within 30 days of notice of authorization and must remit the deductions to the exclusive representative within 30 days of the deduction.

The law also allows public employees, in instances where no union is in place, to request and be allowed payroll deduction for the organization of their choice. Failure to comply with this deduction timeline is an unfair labor practice under Minnesota Statutes, section 179A.13.

Time off for appointed or elected representatives

This law amends Minnesota Statutes, section 179A.07, subdivision 6 regarding an employer’s requirement to provide reasonable time off to elected officers or appointed representatives of the exclusive representative to conduct the duties of the exclusive representative. The list of who can be a representative was expanded to include elected or appointed officials of an affiliate of an exclusive representative.

Bargaining unit information

Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, public employers must begin providing certain contact information to an exclusive representative for all bargaining unit employees every 120 days. The information should be provided in an Excel file or similar format agreed to by the exclusive representative and should include:

  • Name
  • Job title
  • Worksite location
  • Home address
  • Work telephone number
  • Home and personal cell phone numbers on file with the city
  • Date of hire
  • Work and personal email address

Public employers must provide this information on new employees within 20 calendar days of hire, and they must notify an exclusive representative of an employee’s separation of employment or transfer out of a bargaining unit within 20 calendar days of its occurrence.

Note that Social Security numbers should not be requested from the unions and cities should not provide Social Security numbers associated with union requests for data.

Meetings with new hires

This new law requires a public employer to allow an exclusive representative to meet in person with newly hired employees, without charge to the pay or leave time of the employees, for 30 minutes within 30 calendar days of hire. This meeting may take place during new employee orientations or in an individual or group meeting.

Employers must provide at least 10 days’ notice of an orientation to the exclusive representative, except in cases in which there is an urgent need of the public employer that was not foreseeable. These meetings are limited to the public employer, the employees, the exclusive representative, and any vendor contracted to provide services for the meeting.

Meetings can occur virtually or for longer than 30 minutes by mutual agreement of the employer and exclusive representative.

Meetings with employees

Employers are significantly limited in their ability to require that employees attend meetings regarding unionization (as well as meetings regarding religious or political matters). A city, its agent, representative, or designee must not discharge, discipline, penalize, or threaten to discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize or take any adverse employment action against an employee:

  • Because the employee declines to attend or participate in an employer-sponsored meeting or declines to receive or listen to communications from the employer or agent, representative, or designee of the employer if the meeting or communication is the opinion of the employer about religious or political matters.
  • As a means of inducting an employee to attend or participate in meetings or receive or listen to communications as described above.
  • Because the employee, or a person, acting on behalf of the employee, makes a good-faith report, orally or in writing, of a violation or a suspected violation of this section.

An employer still has the authority under this section to communicate information and require attendance at meetings when necessary for an employee to perform his/her job duties. These employee rights are required to be posted (and remain posted) by the city as of Sept. 1, 2023.

Remedies of violations in this area are significant.  Relief to an employee may include injunctive relief, reinstatement to the employee’s former position or an equivalent position, back pay and reestablishment of an employee benefits, including seniority, to which the employee would otherwise have been eligible if the violation has not occurred, and any other appropriate relief as deemed necessary by the court to make the employee whole.  The court is also required to award a prevailing employee reasonable attorney fees and costs.

Email communications using employer-issued addresses

The new law requires a public employer to allow an exclusive representative to communicate with bargaining unit members using their employer-issued email address regarding collective bargaining, the investigation of grievances, other workplace-related complaints and issues, and internal matters involving the governance or business of the exclusive representative, consistent with the employer’s generally applicable technology use policies.

Building access for meetings with exclusive representatives

The new law requires a public employer to allow an exclusive representative to meet with bargaining unit members in facilities owned or leased by the employer, so long as the use does not interfere with governmental operations and that worksite security protocols established by the employer are followed.

These meetings may be conducted regarding:

  • Collective bargaining.
  • The administration of collective bargaining agreements.
  • Grievances and other workplace-related complaints and issues.
  • Internal matters involving governance or business of the exclusive representative.

These meetings cannot be for the purpose of supporting or opposing any candidate for partisan political office or for distributing information related to partisan elections. An employer may charge an exclusive representative for maintenance, security, and other costs related to the use of the government building that would not otherwise be incurred by the city.

Majority verification procedure

An employee organization may now request certification without requiring an election by providing evidence to the commissioner of the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) verifying that over 50% of employees in an appropriate unit wish to be represented by that employee organization.

Employee organizations can also utilize the existing method to seek an election by submitting authorization cards showing at least 30% of the employees of an appropriate unit (the group of employees who will make up the bargaining unit). Authorized signatures submitted to the BMS by employees may be electronic.

Additional information

The labor relations chapter of the League’s HR Reference Manual is currently being updated to comport with the 2023 law changes. Once it is updated, the link will be posted on Memberlink communities. Be sure to review it to seek information on what employers may still communicate to employees and best practices regarding union organizing activities.

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