State employee bargaining: policy and organization Essay

State employee bargaining: policy and organization

At least 35 State governments engage in some type of labor
negotiations with their employees, according to a survey conducted
during the 1981-83 period by the Industrial Relations Center at the
University of Hawaii at Manoa. A majority have formal negotiations;
others have some type of “meet and confer’ procedure.

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States which engage in formal negotiations have bargaining units
reflecting the history of organizing and negotiation activities in the
respective States. The larger groups of organized State employees are
in administrative/clerical, corrections, engineering/science, hospital,
maintenance/ trades, and public welfare occupations. Some professional
employees–dentists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, and
administrators–also are in bargaining units.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is the major State employee union, representing 44 percent of
the more than 943,000 covered employees in the survey. State employee
associations represent about 75,000, or 18 percent of the employees, but
the employee associations are affiliating with other unions, the most
recent being the affiliation of the California State Employees’
Association with the Service Employees International Union (AFL-CIO).

In the fall of 1981, a questionnaire was sent to the board
responsible for collective bargaining procedures or the agency involved
in personnel administration in each of the 50 State governments. By the
fall of 1983, responses had been received from all States except New
Mexico. The questionnaire was designed to identify States according to
the extent of employee bargaining activity and to obtain basic data for
a study of the characteristics of such activity. Questions were asked
about State labor relations policy, organization of the administering
agency, unit determination, and impasse resolution procedures. This
summary discusses information related to policy and unit determination.

Labor relations policy

Collective bargaining occurs in 27 State governments and, in most
instances, is authorized by law. (See table 1.) State employee
collective bargaining is now authorized in Illinois by the Public Labor
Relations Act (which became effective on July 1, 1984) and by the
Education Labor Relations Act (effective January 1, 1984), and in Ohio
with the enactment of a comprehensive statute (effective April 1, 1984).
Informal consultations with no written agreements take place in four
States–Utah, Indiana, Nevada, and Wyoming. In Utah, the State
constitution1 and attorney general opinion are the legal basis for such
informal consultation. The other three States report no legal basis for
their policies. “Meet and confer’ discussions with mutual
understandings outlined in a memorandum of understanding occur in
Alabama. Informal negotiations with written memorandum of understanding
are authorized by State law and attorney general opinion in North
Dakota. North Dakota also confers exclusive recognition status to
unions for the purpose of informal negotiations. In Maryland and
Missouri, informal “meet and confer’ sessions are authorized
by law. Such discussions are held between the Governor and the employee
organizations in Maryland.

Five States–Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and
Texas–report that State employees had “no bargaining rights.’
There was no legal basis in Arkansas for this policy. Mississippi
reported “there is no State legislation relative to collective
bargaining in the public sector.’ Oklahoma and South Carolina
replied that State employees were not among employees permitted to
bargain, with South Carolina noting attorney general opinions and court
rulings as the legal basis for not bargaining. Oklahoma did not provide
the legal basis for the State policy. Texas reported that the
“employer [is] not required to meet with employee groups, except to
accept their grievances.’

Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, and West Virginia reported
simply that “bargaining does not occur.’ Georgia indicated
only that “State employees are prohibited from striking–there are
no unions or Board [Public Employee Relations Board],’ without any
reference to collective bargaining. Kentucky said that “employees
have the right to collectively bargain, but [the] State isn’t
mandated to recognize. Bargaining does not occur.’ Citations to
State law and an attorney general opinion were given as the legal basis
for this policy.

Collective bargaining is prohibited in four States–by law in North
Carolina and Colorado, by attorney general opinion in Tennessee, and by
court ruling in Virginia.

Thus, while the policy and practices vary among States, some kind
of negotiating activity–collective bargaining, meet and confer,
consultation, or other mechanism–occurs in at least 35 States.

Bargaining units

More than 943,000 State employees are included in at least 470
bargaining units, according to responses from 27 States. (See table 1.)
Most (90 percent) of these employees are concentrated in 15 States. The
State of New York employs some 161,000, or 17 percent; California has
approximately 130,000, or 14 percent.

As a group, bargaining units carved along occupational lines (for
example, nurses, teachers, guards) are found more frequently than units
drawn along functional or departmental lines. Such occupational units
are represented by unions or associations that limit membership
according to a specific occupation or profession. For example,
affiliates of the American Nurses Association represent 13 of the 15
units of nurses reported in this survey. However, there are certain
groups of employees who, although organized in their own units, have
chosen to be represented by broad-based unions, such as AFSCME.

States permitting collective bargaining generally have the
appropriate bargaining units determined by Public Employee Relations
Boards, other government agencies, or State officials. In Hawaii,
Minnesota, and Wisconsin, bargaining units are set forth in the
collective bargaining statutes; in Florida, they are established by
rules promulgated by the Public Employees Relations Commission. In
California, there are 46 potential units. The Public Employment
Relations Board has carved 20 units for employees covered by the State
Employer-Employee Relations Act; 17 units for the University of
California system, and 9 units for the California State University
system under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act. (At
the time of the survey, only 9 higher education units had exclusive
representatives certified for representation purposes.) In
Massachusetts, the Labor Relations Commission has established 10
statewide units of “nonprofessional’ and professional
employees, and 28 higher education units. Eight additional units (which
cover State police, metropolitan district commission police, judiciary,
and lottery commission employees) are set by statute.

The number of bargaining units ranges from two in New Hampshire to
51 in Washington; 13 States reported fewer than 15 units. The average
number of units is 18. States tend to have relatively few units when
employees are organized by occupation on a statewide basis, as is the
case in Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New York, and Vermont (each of
these States has 10 or fewer units). Other States (Minnesota with 16
statewide units and Hawaii and Wisconsin with 12 each) carve out
additional units by separating subgroups of professional employees and
establishing units for supervisory employees.

The case of Ohio is unusual. Prior to the 1983 passage of the
collective bargaining law, the State had negotiated agreements with a
number of employee organizations. However, the bargaining agent was
recognized “based on a percentage of showing of interest determined
by the appointing authority of each state agency evidenced by dues
payment to an employee organization. Generally, employee organizations
were granted the right to negotiate a contract when twenty (20) percent
to thirty (30) percent of the total number of employees paid dues to an
employee organization. . . . Therefore, recognition was granted based
on this showing of interest and not through representation

It was also explained that Ohio had “agreements which do not
define the bargaining unit. In these instances, all dues-paying
employees of an agency constitute the bargaining unit.’ Presently,
the law authorizes the Ohio Public Employment Relations Board to
determine the appropriate unit.

Excluded employees

Information on types of employees excluded from bargaining was
provided by the 27 States with collective bargaining activities. (See
table 1.) Only one State, Louisiana, extends bargaining to all
employees, stating “no State employee groups are excluded from
appropriate bargaining units.’ Managerial employees and
confidential employees (generally those who have access to confidential
information, or who participate in negotiating on behalf of the
employer) are most often excluded (20 States), followed by elected and
appointed officials (11) and supervisory employees (9).

Among the collective bargaining units in Alaska is a unit of
confidential employees, who are defined as “classified employees of
the Executive Branch who “assist or act in a confidential capacity
to a person who formulates, determines, and effectuates management
policies in the area of collective bargaining’.’ Ohio
generally included supervisors in the bargaining units if they paid dues
to an employee organization. However, some agreements in Ohio defined
the bargaining unit to exclude supervisory, confidential, and
management-level employees.

Practice varies in terms of coverage of supervisory employees under
the bagaining laws. Supervisors are included in the same bargaining
unit with nonsupervisory employees in Connecticut, Louisiana, and New
York. Two broad supervisory units are set forth by law in Hawaii, but
some units combine supervisory and nonsupervisory employees. In
Delaware and Washington, most supervisors, if organized, are in units
with other employees, although this practice may vary. Separate
supervisory units are called for under the laws of Alaska, California,
Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, and Vermont. In Alaska, however, the law grandfathers
units that combined nonsupervisory and supervisory employees prior to
the enactment of the Public Employment Relations Act. In Florida, only
the health care unit includes both supervisors and nonsupervisors,
according to rules of the Public Employees Relations Commission. In New
Jersey, the Public Employment Relations Commission is authorized to
allow a bargaining unit made up of supervisory and nonsupervisory
employees under special limited circumstances. Under the Pennsylvania
law, supervisors are granted meet and discuss rights only. Supervisory
employees in Michigan have only limited recognition rights.

Bargaining organizations

Unions enjoying exclusive representation rights in each of the
States range in number from one (Louisiana) to 20 (Rhode Island).
Washington has 51 bargaining units, but only eight unions are involved.

Affiliates of AFSCME are found in 24 States in the survey. In
contrast, State employee associations, are recognized in 13(2) of the 26
States providing union representation information, and represent
approximately 18 percent of the employees included in the survey. (In
January 1984, the California State Employees’ Association, with
current membership of approximately 90,000, announced it would affiliate
with the Service Employees International Union, thus reducing the
percentage of employees in the survey represented by employee
associations to 8 percent.)

A number of private sector unions hold exclusive representation
rights among certain groups of State public employees. For example, the
Communications Workers of America represents the largest number of
employees, 42,313, in six units in New Jersey and one unit in
California. The Service Employees International Union represents more
than 34,000 employees in Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon,
and Pennsylvania. Other private sector unions representing State
employees include the International Federation of Professional and
Technical Engineers (six units with 9,000 employees in New Jersey and
Washington), the Retail Clerks (four units with 3,380 employees in
Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Washington), and the Teamsters (11
units with 9,000 employees in Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota,
Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington). At least 19 other private
sector unions are represented in the survey.

In representing State government employees, the private sector
unions follow jurisdictional lines in most cases (that is, the Painters,
Electricians, and Machinist unions represent craft employees, and the
Plant Guard Workers represent security employees). There are, however,
variations. For example, the Teamsters union, which has primary
interest in “transportation, warehousing, and the manufacture,
processing, sale, and distribution of food, milk, and dairy
products,’3 claims among its members a unit of university
administrative employees in Minnesota. The Communications Workers of
America, which began as a union of telephone employees,4 represents
State administrative, clerical, professional, and supervisory employees
and psychiatric technicians. Until 1981, four of the six CWA units in
New Jersey were jointly represented by the Civil Service Association and
the State Employee Association.

By occupation. Nearly 75,000 education employees in 21 States are
represented by the American Federation of Teachers, National Education
Association, American Association of University Professors, and other
education employee organizations. These employees include both
instructional and noninstructional professional personnel in
institutions of higher education, community colleges,
vocational-technical schools, schools for the blind and the deaf, and
schools in correctional departments and hospitals. Affiliates of the
American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association
represent the largest numbers of employees, approximately 28,700 and
28,300, respectively, followed by the American Association of University
Professors with approximately 7,750. Three additional units in Hawaii
and Pennsylvania, totaling 7,770 faculty members, are represented
jointly by the American Association of University Professors/National
Education Association, and American Association of University
Professors/American Federation of Teachers. Nonteacher organizations
such as the California State Employees’ Association, California
Federation of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, Statewide
University Police Association, Nebraska Association of Public Employees,
and AFSCME represent an additional 51 units consisting of 24,000
employees in education institutions; the majority (22,700) are
noninstructional, nonprofessional employees.

Affiliates of the American Nurses Association represent 13 units
comprising more than 12,700 nurses in Delaware, Florida, Illinois,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Two units, together covering more than 2,400 registered nurses, are
represented by the California State Employees’ Association and the
Hawaii Government Employees Association. In addition, a bargaining unit
of 2,000 professional health care employees in Connecticut is
represented by the N.E. Health Care Employees, District 1199, and a
unit of 1,100 patient care employees in Wisconsin is represented by the
United Professionals for Quality Health Care.

More than 20,700 State troopers and police were organized in 15
States. The Policemen’s Benevolent Association is by far the
largest, representing nearly 8,000 employees in Florida, New Jersey, and
New York. The Fraternal Order of Police represents six units totaling
760 employees in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Other police
and State trooper organizations, representing more than 12,000 members,
include the Alaska Public Safety Employees Association, California
Association of Highway Patrolmen, Connecticut State Police Union, Iowa
State Police Officers’ Council, Kansas Troopers Association, Maine
State Troopers Association, State Police Association of Massachusetts,
Michigan State Police Troopers Association, Minnesota State Patrol Troopers Association, the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New
Jersey, Inc., and the State Troopers Noncommissioned Officers
Association of New Jersey, Inc. The Vermont State Employees Association
represents a unit of State police officers in that State.

Some observations

The survey results presented here provide the basis for some
general observations concerning characteristics of State government
employee bargaining: the existence of a bargaining statute determines
the bargaining unit coverage, but it may not be determinative of the
extent of organization in terms of organized employees; and the extent
of organization in the nonagriculture sector appears to influence the
organization of State employees, although in States in which collective
bargaining is authorized by law, the proportion of organized workers is
larger in State government than in private nonagriculture industries.
(See table 2.)

The findings reveal State government bargaining characteristics
which are not entirely like those that describe the private sector. This
leads to questions which require further investigation. What factors
other than the existence of a bargaining statute influence or promote
organization of State employees? Does the existence of a merit system affect the development of a State’s labor relations policy and
organization of employees? Are there differences in the bargaining
outcomes developing out of State government bargaining? It may be that
the perceived differences are only minor variations; but without further
examination, it is not clear whether they reflect the environment unique
to State government and the individual States.


ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The authors thank Professor James L. Stern,
University of Wisconsin-Madison for comments and suggestions.

1 According to the Utah respondent, the prohibition of collective
bargaining by State Constitution is found in Utah Code Annotated, Secs.
34-34-1 to 34-34-17 (Utah’s right-to-work law).

2 The States are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois,
Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota,
Vermont, and Washington.

3 See Jack Stieber, Public Employee Unionism: Structure, Growth,
Policy (Washington, The Brookings Institution, 1973), p. 5.

4 See Jack Barbash, Unions and Telephones (New York, Harper &
Row, 1952).

Table: 1. State government employees in bargaining units in states
in which collective bargaining is authorized, 1981-83

Table: 2. Percent of organized full-time employees in State
government and in private nongariculture industries, selected States,


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