Part 2: Friday Night Fights
The first installment of MMA’s history discussed MMA MN/DOT’s beginnings and its arbitration victory on wages in resolving its 1979-81 Collective Bargaining Agreement with the State. The year 1979 turned out to be a tumultuous one for State labor relations. Coming into the year, the State negotiated and administered 33 collective bargaining agreements covering 116 bargaining units involving 20 different unions, MMA being but one small union in that big picture. As would typically occur, AFSCME, which represented by far the largest number of employees, settled first, in March, 1979, with general wage increases for its 1979-81 contract totaling about 14% over the two years. (Recall that these were the years where inflation, and thus all other rates, were running very high. Mortgage rates, for example, were 11% in May 1979 and peaked at 18% in October 1981).
When the State refused to bargain a different wage with the unions that came after AFSCME, putting forth in the unions’ views a “take it or leave it” position, two of the unions, Minnesota Community College Faculty and the BCA Forensic Scientists, went to Court alleging the State had committed an unfair labor practice by engaging in rigid bargaining. After they got a temporary injunction prohibiting the State’s inflexible bargaining position, bargaining in subsequent months lead to voluntary settlements with these two groups, each settlement in excess of the AFSCME wage settlement for the same two years. Other union groups followed, including MMA, with its own higher arbitrated settlement. These events pushed the State to reopen the just-ratified AFSCME contract to consider additional increases in it as a way of making up somewhat for the higher later settlements with other unions. Finally, the State and AFSCME agreed that every employee in AFSCME units would receive additional money for the two years in the form of lump sum bonuses.
With this chaotic labor relations year at the State, it should not have been surprising that the legislature started re-looking at the Public Employment Relations Statute (“PELRA”, Minn. State Sec. 179A), with a view especially to addressing the proliferation of bargaining units at the State. As a result of its deliberations on this issue and before it adjourned in May 1979, the legislature established a new Joint Committee called the Legislative Commission on Employee Relations (now called the Subcommittee on Employee Relations), and it directed the Commission to review the number and composition of State bargaining units and report back to the legislature at its next legislative session due to commence in January 1980. One recommendation the Commission soon received from public employer representatives was that the law should be changed to eliminate the supervisors’ right to bargain or to have any union representation as was true in the private sector under the National Labor Relations Act. MMA MN/DOT argued to the Commission that State employees’ supervisory rights should be maintained and submitted a paper supporting that position.
After receiving the report of the Commission in early 1980, the legislature made significant changes to PELRA with the result that 116 department based State bargaining units were reduced to 16 occupational based units. While these statutory changes had the effect of enhancing any victorious unions’ bargaining power by consolidating the bargaining units, the statutory changes also established the Department of Labor Relations (“DOER”) and gave it the authority to represent the State in all bargaining with the consolidated units and to resolve all grievances, this in an attempt to balance the increased power of the unions under the changed statute.
One of the units established by the new legislation was described as the “supervisory employees unit”. It would turn out that this supervisory employees unit would include about 2500 supervisors, though early in 1980 we thought the number would be higher. While the amended statute provided for the availability of bargaining for supervisors by creating a State wide supervisory unit, that right came with restrictions. The law prohibited supervisors from going on strike but substituted instead a right to go to arbitration on its final contract terms. It also introduced a limitation that prohibited any union representing a non-supervisory bargaining unit at the State, like AFSCME did, from also representing the supervisory unit.
But while the good news was that supervisory rights were available for State supervisors, it looked like a pyrrhic victory, as at the time there was serious doubt as to whether any one could win a statewide election of all supervisors. At a minimum, this change in the law meant that MMA MN/DOT would cease to exist when its contract with the State expired in June 1981. AFSCME supervisory units in Corrections, DEED and DNR, and the IMAGE independent union in Revenue were to suffer the same fate as MMA/MNDOT, that is compete to win it all in a global supervisory election of 2500 supervisors or be dissolved.
A strategy was developed to win the right to represent all State supervisors…
After deliberating the issue, MMA MN/DOT decided to try to get on the ballot for an election of all supervisors and committed some crucial money for the cost of mailing to aid the effort. I was fully involved as was Gene Aune, MMA MN/DOT president, and to a lesser extent the executive board. During late 1979 and most all of 1980, we operated out of Gene’s townhome in Woodbury and my law office in Minneapolis. At the same time as we were gearing up to try to get an election, AFSCME formed a new group called the Minnesota Supervisors Union (“MSU”), supposedly independent of AFSCME, to do what we were doing but in competition with MMA.
In order to force a vote on the supervisory unit, MMA would have to get signed support from at least 750 supervisors saying they wanted MMA to represent them for bargaining (by Minnesota Statute, to get an election, an interested union needed signed support from 30% of the proposed bargaining unit of 2500 or, in this case, 750 supervisors). This would prove to be a formidable task as no one, including the State, had a list of supervisors so there was no way to reach out to most of them. Nonetheless, on behalf of the new MMA, now recreated on paper as an organization able to represent all State supervisors, I formally requested of the State a list of the names of all supervisors with their job classes and office addresses.
Some time later I was informed that I could pick up the information I had requested at the office of Jim Geissner, the State Negotiator. When I met him in his office and asked for the information, he pointed to a box in the corner of his office and said the names and information I requested were in there. The box contained 2 feet and 10 pounds worth of computer printout with the name, classification and office address of every State employee not just supervisors; over 30,000 names in alphabetical order were on the list. No sorting out of supervisors from that list had been done at that point by the State, or so I was supposed to believe. But I took the box and then asked him for a State phone book, which I thought might be helpful as it would contain phone numbers of some of the supervisors at the State. I remember him picking one up from his desk and looking at the inside cover. “Sorry”, he said, “State property”. Anyway, I grabbed a State phone book from the waiting room on the way out. Five days and many hours later, I had developed a list of supervisors that might only have been in the 80% “right” category, but at least it was enough for a first mailing to try to get the signed support we so badly needed.
Also, all throughout this time period, we were meeting with supervisors all over the State whenever and wherever we could, trying to convince them that they should support MMA. We were spending all our energies trying to get the signed cards of support we needed to call for an election and be on the ballot. Of course, as we met supervisors to get their signed support, we were also explaining why they should support us if there was an election. Out of the meetings, it did seem clear that supervisors recognized that they needed help with wages and benefits. Also, they did appear to appreciate MMA’s independent non-affiliated status and MMA MN/DOT’s success in 1979 in arbitrating a much higher wage increase for MN DOT supervisors than either AFSCME or the other supervisors had gotten. Read Full Article