Q: What happens if the Union members vote to reject the final contract proposal?
First, some background: bargaining in the private sector and the public sector is different and different laws apply. In California, public sector bargaining is covered under the Milias-Meyers-Brown Act (MMB) or Government Code section 3500. This empowers a State board known as the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB). PERB hears charges regarding Unfair Labor Practices, including Impasses, unfair bargaining and violations of the MMB. Charges can be filed by governments (State, County and City), by public sector unions or by public sector employees. However, the unique aspect of the MMB is that it allows a “carve out” specifically for the City and County of Los Angeles in that both get to have their own Respective Boards. For the County of Los Angeles it is known as the Employee Relations Commission (ERCom). For the City of Los Angeles, it is known as the Employee Relations Board (ERB). However, each Board must abide by the MMB.
The ERB hears Unfair Employee Relations Practice claims (UERP) filed by the City, City Unions and City employees and includes additional localized ordinances, which are not in conflict with the MMB, and determines who can exclusively bargain contracts, or Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) on behalf of City employees. These are known as Employee Relations Ordinances (ERO). Additionally, the ERB is also allowed to make its own Rules and Regulations in regards to its protocol and procedures regarding forms, time limits, filing and processing.
Contract bargaining between the City and its Unions may usually begin before a contract expires and may continue, even after a contract has expired. In the event that a contract expires the contract may still apply until there is a contract ratified by both the City and its Unions or an Impasse is declared in which the City may impose a Last, Best and Final Offer (LBFO)
In the event that continuous bargaining comes to a point that further bargaining meetings would not be fruitful, either the City or a Union may file for an Declaration of Impasse which comes before the ERB in which the ERB may elect to send the matter to arbitration, a fact finding hearing, or mediation.
Under the MMBA, upon impasse an employer may impose its Last, Best and Final Offer (LBFO) but “shall not impose a memorandum of understanding.” (Gov. Code 3505.4.) This is commonly understood to mean that an employer cannot impose a set term on its LBFO whereby the employer refuses to bargain during that term—an interpretation that is consistent with this decision. However, the provision in the MMBA that an employer “shall not impose a memorandum of understanding” could be interpreted to mean that an employer cannot impose any term at all, regardless of whether or not the employer stands ready to bargain.
Practically, there really isn’t a difference between imposing a LBFO without any term versus imposing a LBFO with a term, but being willing to bargain at any time. The latter is essentially imposing a contract with a re-opener that can be triggered by the union at any time—it basically renders the term provision meaningless.
However, during the bargaining process, if an agreement in principle is reached, the tentative agreement should go before the union members for ratification pursuant to the union’s respective Constitution and By-laws. If the Union members vote, in a fair election, not to ratify the tentative agreement, the City and the Union may go back to the bargaining table to “tweak” the tentative agreement to assuage the union members concerns, and a 2nd attempt by the union may be made to have their members vote again. If the contract is still not ratified, the City may attempt to file for an Impasse and attempt to impose a LBFO.
ERB Website: http://erb.lacity.org/erbab1.htm