Below are answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the process and the District’s position heading into the fact finding hearing.
The PERB (Public Employee Relations Board) Fact Finding Process
Q: How long has the District been negotiating with the bargaining team of the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees (BCCE)?
A: For over three years, since the merger of two bargaining units representing the District’s 570 classified employees, teams from management and the BCCE have been reconciling the two contracts. The negotiations required both sides to merge two contracts with very different language. The District accepted the vast majority of the contract terms that most benefitted the employees and we have corrected several important economic disparities between the two merged contracts.
Q: Is the district at impasse under the state collective bargaining law?
A: Yes. In late January 2014, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) issued a formal declaration of impasse and assigned a neutral mediator from the State Mediation and Conciliation Service to facilitate talks between the two teams. The two sides in the dispute met with the mediator between February 12, 2014 and July 29, 2014 without reaching agreement. On July 30th,, the mediator declared that further mediation would be non-productive and certified the parties to proceed to fact finding.
Q: In mediation, did the District attempt to compromise from its earlier position?
A: Yes, the District offered several alternatives from its initial position. The role of the state appointed mediator is to facilitate the parties’ ability to reach agreement to resolve their bargaining impasse. The mediator met with the parties numerous times between their separate caucus meetings to float ideas and counteroffers. There were many counter proposals discussed that were different from the last offers made prior to impasse. Mediation occurs confidentially and is not open to the public or rank-and-file employees. During mediation, the mediator asked the parties not to discuss their proposals publicly.
Q: How does fact-finding work?
A: An impartial three-person fact finding panel will review the arguments and proposals from both sides and issue a set of non-binding recommendations for a settlement. Management and the union each appoint one member to the fact-finding panel. Then they mutually agree on a neutral, independent fact finding panel chairperson from a list of qualified labor relations professionals supplied by the State. The fact finding hearing usually takes about a month to schedule. Realistically, the earliest a fact finding hearing could be scheduled is several months away. The hearing is not open to the public.
Q: What is involved in the fact-finding hearing?
A: The panel schedules and holds private hearings where both sides present their last, best offers. The District and the union prepare extensive binders with comparative data and arguments defending their positions. The panel members meet in private to evaluate the positions and the data. Within 30 days they are required to issue a report that contains findings of fact and non-binding recommendations. Before the report is made public, the parties have one more chance to meet confidentially to reach a tentative agreement. If they do not, then the executive board of the union and the School Board vote to accept or reject the fact finder’s report. By statute, this process can take no longer than ten days from the time the report is made public.
Q: Is the fact finder’s recommendation binding on the parties?
A: The fact finder’s report is advisory only. Fact-finding is not like arbitration where an administrative law judge decides between competing proposals presented by either side in a dispute. Arbitration is a winner-take-all situation. In fact finding, the panel chairperson can make suggestions that are compromises. However, the fact finder cannot introduce issues that have not already been submitted in the last best offers by the parties.
Q: Can negotiations continue while fact-finding is underway?
A: Possibly. The fact-finding panel has discretion to facilitate further settlement discussions. When this occurs, it often involves a series of back and forth discussions or mediation sessions involving the fact finding panel chair and both bargaining teams either before or after the formal hearing is completed. In some cases, once the parties have heard all of the facts and have some indication of the fact finders’ positions, a settlement agreement can be reached and the process ends. In other cases, the parties cannot agree that day, but agree to resume mediation while the fact finder’s report is pending. Sometimes a settlement agreement can be reached prior to the report being issued. The state collective bargaining law requires that once the fact finding report is issued, the parties must meet at least one more time to see if the provisions of the mediator’s report can form an acceptable basis for a negotiated settlement.
Q: If fact finding fails to produce an agreement is a strike is imminent?
A: Talk of a strike is premature. A strike cannot occur until all steps in the impasse process have been exhausted which includes completion of the fact finding process. At this point, it would be illegal for the union to engage in any concerted work stoppage prior to the fact finders final report being made public.
Q: Can the district impose its last, best and final offer if fact finding doesn’t work?
A: Yes. The last, best and final offer is the only unilateral action that the District can impose if a negotiated agreement cannot be reached after fact finding. The District‘s last best and final offer can constitute the last, best and final offer that could be implemented.
Q: Have classified employees received raises in the last three years?
A: Yes, BCCE members received the same raise as all other employees over the past three years. Even though contract negotiations were ongoing, BCCE unit employees received about $1.6 million dollars in increases from the District. Last year, BCCE employees received the same 2.5% ongoing salary increase and 3.5% bonus as other District employees. The District’s proposals offer additional increases to BCCE members that are greater than those received by the District’s teachers and classified and certificated administrators in contracts signed this spring. The BCCE unit members will not see additional increases until a new contract is signed.