The Public Employee Relations Act governs collective bargaining between public employers and their employees. The term "public employer" under PERA, includes not only the commonwealth and its political subdivisions, including school districts and its boards, commissions, authorities, etc., but also nonprofit organizations and certain other institutions that receive grants or appropriations from local, state or federal governments.
Under the Public Employe Relations Act, employees may organize in units represented by employee organizations of their choice for the purpose of bargaining collectively with their employers concerning wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment. One of the board's major functions is to determine the appropriateness of units, based on guidelines established in the act and in relevant case law. The board also determines whether employees in an appropriate unit wish to be represented by a specific employee organization. This is principally accomplished through secret ballot elections which are held at the employees' worksite or, in some instances, by mail ballot.
Representation cases are initiated most often by filing a petition which must be supported by a showing of interest by 30 percent of the employees in the proposed unit. When elections are held under PERA, employee organizations must receive a majority of the valid ballots cast in the election to be certified as the exclusive representative of a unit. If no choice receives a majority of the votes, a runoff election is held between the two choices that received the most votes.
Units may be certified without conducting elections if an employer does not question either the appropriateness of a unit or the majority status of a petitioning employee organization and joins with the employee organization to request that the board certify the proposed unit.
The board also enforces and protects the rights of employees to organize and to bargain collectively through investigation of charges of unfair practices and direction of remedies if such practices are found.
PERA prohibits employers from interfering, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of their rights. Employers also may not refuse to bargain, dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any employee organization, or discriminate against employees because of union activity. The enumerated employee or employee organization unfair practices restrict interference and unlawful restraints that could occur in bargaining relations with employers or in dealing with individual employees, including refusal to bargain in good faith.
Parties may initiate board investigation of an alleged unfair practice by filing a charge on the appropriate form. After a complaint is issued, the case may be assigned directly to a hearing or to a conciliator for further investigation or discussions between the parties to arrive at a settlement of the case. Should the settlement effort fail, or should the case contain issues and circumstances which are not amenable to negotiated settlement, the case will proceed to a formal hearing.
At the hearing, a representative of the party filing the charge will prosecute the case before a board hearing examiner. The parties present testimony, examine and cross-examine witnesses and introduce evidence concerning the charge. A stenographic record is made of the hearing.
Upon conclusion of a hearing, the hearing examiner will issue a proposed decision and order to the parties containing a statement of the case, findings of fact, conclusions of law and an order either dismissing or sustaining the charge. The board reviews any exceptions to examiner decisions. If a charge is sustained, appropriate actions to remedy the effect of the unfair practice, including reinstatement of employees discharged in violation of the act, with or without back pay may be ordered. The board has the authority to petition the courts for the enforcement of such orders and for appropriate temporary relief or restraining orders.