Labor Relations & Collective Bargaining

Labor Relations & Collective Bargaining

Our talented labor attorneys and consultants are renowned throughout the local government, public school, and college communities for expert management representation specializing in collective bargaining, labor agreement compliance, PERB matters and grievance arbitration.

We foster positive, professional and collaborative labor-management relations in the public sector.  With sound insight, we help agencies balance organizational requirements with employee interests in the represented workforce.

Areas in which we work

Collective Bargaining

Our negotiators have successfully negotiated thousands of labor agreements on behalf of cities, counties, special districts, the courts, and school and community college districts, covering all classes of employees, including public safety, white and blue collar, professional, supervisory and management, and education employee bargaining units. We have negotiated virtually every issue within the scope of bargaining, including all forms of wages; hours, work schedules and overtime; health and retirement benefits; leaves; discipline and arbitration procedures; layoff and furlough policies; and a wide variety of negotiable working conditions. During periods of budgetary shortfalls, we have successfully represented clients in negotiating salary and benefit reductions, furloughs, reduced 2nd tier retirement and retiree health benefits, contracting out of services, the impacts and effects of layoffs, and reducing labor costs through modifications in negotiable work rules.

Our negotiators are experienced in a variety of bargaining philosophies, from collaborative and interest based bargaining techniques to the more traditional labor negotiations approach. We come to the table with legal expertise in wage and hour, retirement, protected leave, healthcare, education, and privacy laws, and public employee rights and protections to ensure legally compliant bargaining agreements.

We tailor our services to meet your agency’s needs. In addition to acting as chief negotiators for public employers, we advise agencies that employ staff personnel to do their own negotiations. These arrangements involve all aspects of consultation and related services, including drafting and reviewing bargaining proposals, counter proposals, and agreement provisions, providing training and advice concerning negotiating strategies, and giving advice or stepping into the process when particular problems arise.

Our philosophy is not one of "union-busting," but rather a professional approach that seeks to achieve and maintain respectful, professional relationships between the employer, employee organization, and employees, notwithstanding the sometimes adversarial aspects of the process.  We work with our clients to balance competitive wage and benefit adjustments with client resource limitations and management discretion to set standards of service.

Examples of our work include:

  • On behalf of a special district, Kelly Tuffo negotiated a five-year agreement with a bargaining unit composed of maintenance, trades and warehouse employees. The agreement covered withdrawal from a multiemployer pension plan and replacement with employee option to enroll in district’s 401(a) plan, with a district contribution of between 10 and 15% of wages, depending on the level of employee participation. In addition, the parties agreed to a one-time lump sum of $1,200 per employee upon ratification, first-year increase in hourly wages of between $1.20 and $1.56 per hour, and 3% annual wage increases per year for the remaining years of the agreement. Employee contributions to health insurance increased by 12% over five years. The district agreed to increase shift differential pay and clothing allowance. The parties agreed to clarify rules regarding seniority applicable to promotional opportunities, overtime and call-back assignments, and layoff procedures, as well as agreed to add an additional notice requirement for vacation scheduling.
  • On behalf of a city government, Kelly Tuffo negotiated the contracting out of law enforcement services, with the layoff of city employees and opportunity for rehire with the successor agency. Employees not rehired by the successor agency in a comparable position and who did not retire from the city received six months of severance pay. In addition, the successor agency and successor bargaining unit agreed to certain hiring terms for qualifying, laid off city employees, which were then negotiated with the employee organization representing city employees. These terms included salary step designation (and y-rating where appropriate), an abbreviation of probationary periods at the successor agency, and the transfer of vacation leave, compensatory time off and cashable sick leave (funded through the contract between agencies). Furthermore, the successor agency agreed to count time in city service for the purpose of calculating vacation accrual, longevity pay, promotions and statutory leaves. While time in city service was not counted toward future administration of layoff procedures at the successor agency, the successor agency did agree to hire eligible city employees in order of city seniority, permitting city employees to maintain the same hiring order at the new agency.

Impasse Procedures and Strike Actions

Our negotiators have broad expertise handling and advising agencies in collective bargaining mediations, fact-finding hearings, interest arbitrations, and unilateral implementation. Our attorneys have both represented agencies, and served as agency panel members, in a number of fact-finding hearings and interest arbitrations.

We help prepare employers for concerted activity. Our work includes contingency planning for job actions, preparing and updating strike plans, training strike response teams, assisting with public relations, responding to strike-related activities, and petitioning for injunctive relief to enjoin essential employees from striking and to impede illegal concerted activity.  

Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) Representation

We represent clients in all phases of PERB proceedings, from consultation and responses to Unfair Labor Practice claims through PERB hearings and court appeals. We help clients navigate employee organization representation issues, and represent clients in petitions for injunctive relief as well as opposition to union requests for injunctive relief.

Our expertise includes knowledge of the inner workings of PERB. For example, firm partner Bruce Barsook served as counsel to the PERB Board's first Chairperson and served as a PERB Administrative Law Judge. Firm partner Mary Dowell worked with PERB early in her career and was later involved in statewide task forces on early implementation of the Educational Employment Relations Act.   

Examples of our work include the following:

  • We obtained dismissal of an unfair practice charge filed against a city by an employee organization which claimed that the city unilaterally changed its uniform policy by requiring building inspectors to wear long pants.
  • We successfully represented a county against three unfair practice charges filed by an employee alleging retaliation for protected activity. One charge was dismissed by the administrative law judge at the close of the hearing, one was dismissed by PERB without a complaint being issued, and the employee withdrew the third.
  • We successfully represented a city before the Court of Appeal on a challenge brought by an employee association to a trial court’s denial of its 1085 writ petition claiming that PERB had erroneously construed the MMBA when it dismissed the Association’s claim of bad faith bargaining by the city.
  • We obtained dismissal of a 1085 writ petition filed against a city by an employee union, which claimed that PERB’s denial of its fact-finding request was based on an erroneous construction of the MMBA.
  • Following a faculty association’s presentation of its case-in-chief before a PERB administrative law judge, we obtained dismissal of the charge and complaint based on a failure to state a prima facie case.
  • We successfully represented a county against an employee organization’s 1085 writ petition seeking injunctive relief on a claim that the county was illegally contracting out mental health services.
  • On several occasions, we have successfully petitioned PERB for injunctive relief to preclude essential employees from striking.  

Managing Grievances, Arbitration and Administrative Hearings

Our vast experience in grievance administration helps clients and employee organizations resolve issues quickly, using innovative and proactive solutions. Our assistance ranges from advice at the early steps of the grievance procedure to litigating arbitration cases for both contract interpretation and disciplinary matters.  When grievances culminate in arbitration, we vigorously represent agencies in evidentiary hearings.

We also handle all types of public sector administrative hearings, including appeals before governing bodies and Civil Service Commissions, and matters before the Office of Civil Rights, Unemployment Compensation Board, and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. 

Labor Agreement and Personnel Rule Audits

We review and draft proposed revisions to labor agreements to comply with evolving legal requirements and ensure best practices in management. Our audit services draw on our legal expertise in wage and hour, retirement, protected leaves, healthcare, public employee rights, education, and privacy laws, as well as a multitude of resources developed over years of experience negotiating labor agreements. We help identify contract interpretation issues that may arise, and offer comprehensive advice for clarifying vague or misleading contract language.

Two books authored by LCW founder Dick Whitmore in the 1990’s on the topic of model labor agreements illustrate our history of expertise in developing contract language – Model Law Enforcement Contract: A Management Perspective, and Model Firefighter’s Contract: A Management Perspective. Both books provide actual labor agreement language as well as a brief analysis of the pros and cons from a management standpoint.

We offer audit services for personnel rules to ensure legal compliance and facilitate effective personnel administration. When needed, we assist in the negotiation of policy changes that are subject to bargaining. Our Liebert Model Personnel Policy Portal (LMP3) is a subscription resource that helps employers maintain up-to-date policies. We also offer a comprehensive sample Employer-Employee Relations Resolution/Ordinance widely utilized by California's local agencies subject to the Meyers Milias Brown Act. It serves to protect local control over key aspects of employment relations which otherwise would be left to the PERB. We advise or represent agencies in consulting with unions in implementing or revising changes in its Resolution or Ordinance. 

Training and Education

You can also view the full list of our upcoming presentationsincluding presentations at conferences throughout the State, and explore our library of Webinars on Demand.

See our Tips from the Table for quick, practical advice directly from our negotiators regarding best practices in labor-management relations.

In addition to our monthly newsletters, our attorneys have contributed to and authored numerous labor relations publications, including the California Public Sector Labor Relations treatise published by the Labor and Employment Law Section of the California State Bar Association, and the California Public Employee Relations Guides and Journal. For more information regarding our publications, please see the News section of our site.

Case Studies

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News & Knowledge

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Constructive Receipt
Feb 13, 2019 Tips from the Table

Constructive Receipt

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Feb 15, 2018 Tips from the Table

Grievances & Statute of Limitations Provisions For Contract Violations

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Nov 19, 2020 Tips from the Table

Labor Relations Tips During a Pandemic

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Mar 24, 2020 Special Bulletins

Department of Labor Clarifies Effective Date of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) will take effect April 1, 2020, according to a new Q & A posted March 24, 2020 by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL, the federal agency charged with implementing and enforcing the FFCRA, has been answering questions online and is work
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Blog Posts

Paid Time Off for Union Leaders: New Law Extends Requirements for Public Employers to Grant Leaves of Absence for Union Stewards and Officers

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