As a new round of teacher bargaining begins – and as school districts watch to see if the QEO is removed and interest arbitration returns to the bargaining process – school districts need to establish a systematic labor relations record retention system. Maintaining a well organized and comprehensive system for retaining your school district’s labor relations records can be an inexpensive but invaluable tool in contract negotiations and administration.
What Labor Relations Records Should I Keep?
Labor relations records can come in a many forms, but generally fall into three groups: Bargaining History Records; Contract Administration Records; and Employer/Employee Policies and Procedures.
- Bargaining History Records. These records include items such as tentative agreements, district proposals and counter-proposals, union proposals and counter-proposals, and costing and comparability data gathered and considered by the bargaining team. These records can be helpful in planning for future negotiations because the union may pursue proposals that were vigorously pursued, but not achieved, and provide historical context for the district’s own proposals.
Another use for these records is in grievance resolution. Bargaining history records can illustrate the parties’ intent when they agreed on language that is later disputed. It also gives context to the agreement by explaining what concessions each side made in reaching the agreement. In grievance arbitration, bargaining history records can be helpful by demonstrating that the union is seeking a benefit which it proposed and was unsuccessful in gaining at the bargaining table. In addition, as a principle of contract interpretation, some arbitrators will interpret ambiguous contract language against the party who actually drafted it. By maintaining these records, it is likely that your district will be in a better position to advance arguments for its benefit.
- Contract Administration Records. These records include informal and formal investigative reports, grievance settlements, grievance awards, and proposed memoranda of understanding. These records are helpful in bargaining because they reveal ambiguous or otherwise problematic contract language that the district may want to revise in a future round of bargaining. Contract administration records can also be a useful tool in resolving future grievances because they may reveal the parties’ subjective interpretations of the contract language. Further, if maintained, contract administration records can serve as a digest of the parties’ and arbitrators’ interpretations of the actual language in the district’s labor agreements.
- Employer/Employee Policies Records. These records most commonly include employee handbooks and documents other than or in addition to the collective bargaining agreement that discuss the rights and responsibilities of the employer and the employees. They can be useful when interpreting ambiguous terms in the labor agreement or trying to demonstrate whether a past practice exists.
How Should I Organize The Records?
The first thing to keep in mind when creating a record retention system is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. What you are looking for is a system that fits into what you are currently doing and is easy to access and update. The following are some ideas that may work in your district.
- Create Collective Bargaining Agreement Binders For Each Contract Term. These binders will serve as a central location for materials related to all of your collective bargaining. Each binder should contain the finalized contract, all tentative agreements and proposals made during negotiations, memoranda of understanding that were adopted during the term of the agreement, and all costing and comparability data that was considered by the bargaining team. The binders make it easy to update the material at the end of each round of bargaining and provide an easy way to access all the relevant material for any labor agreement.
- Annotate Your Labor Agreements. Include citations to past grievances in a copy of your labor agreement with a short description of the case. This is a great way to create institutional memory for the district. The description does not need to be long. A few words to prompt a researcher such as “call-in sick leave” will suffice. Obviously creating the initial annotations can be time consuming. As an alternative, the district could choose to start annotating for the current year moving forward. This would be much less time consuming to start and would preserve the grievances with the greatest potential to be relevant.
- Create Contract Administration Binders. These binders can serve as a useful tool to evaluate your current labor agreement’s effectiveness, and help explain the parties’ interpretations of the labor agreement. The binders should include all grievances which reach a predetermined step in the grievance procedure, all proposed memoranda of understanding during grievance negotiations, all grievance settlements reached, and all grievance arbitration awards. These binders can be reviewed at the end of each labor agreement to assist in shaping the district’s bargaining goals. Further, the binders can be a useful tool in combating frivolous grievances over issues the district feels were previously settled.
Given the turnover of administrators and school board members, school districts must ensure that accurate and complete records of collective bargaining and contract administration matters are preserved. Properly updated and organized labor relations records create institutional memory for a school district and are an invaluable resource for districts looking for an edge at the bargaining table and in arbitration hearings. With some thoughtful planning and a little work, school districts can create and retain those advantages in the future.
For additional information, please contact your Davis & Kuelthau, s.c. attorney.