About union representation and contract negotiations

About collective bargaining

About forming a union

About union representation and contract negotiations

What does it mean to be represented by a union? How does this affect me?

If you are represented by a union, your wages, benefits, hours of work and other terms of employment must be negotiated between the university and your union, and formally outlined in a labor contract. Under state law, UC is prohibited from bypassing a union and dealing directly with represented employees in connection with terms and conditions of their employment.

How are contracts negotiated?

Representatives from the university and the union (“bargaining teams”) meet to negotiate the terms of an agreement. During these negotiations, both sides discuss contract-related issues and present proposals and counter proposals. State law requires that both sides engage in good-faith negotiations to try to resolve any differences and work to reach an agreement in a timely manner.

How long does it take to negotiate a labor contract?

There is no way to predict this. Some labor contracts have been negotiated in a matter of weeks while others have taken months to complete. In some cases, negotiations have taken more than a year.

What if UC and the union cannot reach an agreement on their own?

If the parties cannot reach agreement, state law provides the following to help resolve the impasse:

  • State-assisted mediation. The state's Mediation & Conciliation Service provides a mediator or the parties mutually select someone.
  • If mediation fails, a "factfinding" process follows in which both parties present their positions on unresolved bargainable issues. A factfinder issues recommendations to attempt to resolve the differences. If the parties still cannot reach agreement using the factfinder's recommendations, the recommendations are made public and the university has the option to implement certain terms and conditions of employment

Will I have a say on what will be negotiated and the ultimate agreement?

Whether represented employees can express their views on contract matters depends on the internal procedures and decision-making process of that particular union and its officers.

About collective bargaining

Who oversees the collective bargaining process?

California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) oversees public sector collective bargaining. PERB conducts elections, handles representation election questions and investigates and makes decisions regarding Unfair Labor Practice charges filed by employees, labor organizations and public entities.

PERB administers the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA), the state law that regulates labor relations among UC and the California State University systems, their employees and the unions that represent their employees.

HEERA gives employees the right to form, join and participate in the activities of employee organizations for the purpose of union representation on matters governing the employer-employee relationship.

Employees are protected from reprisals, discrimination, coercion or interference when exercising the rights guaranteed by HEERA, including the right to form, join and participate in union activities.

Employees defined as “managerial” or “confidential” under HEERA are excluded from the law's coverage. Supervisors who are defined differently than “managerial employees” have some rights to union representation under HEERA; however, the law prevents collective bargaining of supervisors' terms and conditions of employment.

Questions about HEERA, its enforcement and administration should be directed to PERB.

What does collective bargaining require of the university and union?

The university and the union are required to meet at reasonable times to negotiate in good faith over wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Neither the university nor the union has to agree to any specific proposal or make any specific concession.

How do groups of employees become exclusively represented?

A union seeking to represent a group of employees must petition the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to be certified as the exclusive representative for that specific group of employees.

Under the current “card check” law, a union can collect signatures from 50 percent plus one of the employees in the targeted group to automatically become the exclusive representative for all employees in that group — including those who didn’t sign authorization cards or a petition. No election is held in these cases.

If a union submits signatures from at least 30 percent of the employees in a proposed bargaining unit, but less than a simple majority, PERB will hold an election to allow eligible employees to vote either "no representation" or for the petitioning union(s).

  • "No representation" means that these employees would not be exclusively represented by a union. These employees would continue to have the same rights to representation they currently enjoy — that is, the right to choose to be represented by any union or individual, or the right not to be represented, and their conditions of employment would be what is provided under university personnel programs and policies that apply to non-represented employees.
  • If the petitioning union is selected, the university and union would negotiate wages, hours, and other terms of employment for these employees.
  • The outcome of the election is determined by a majority vote of the employees who vote in the election, regardless of the size of the proposed bargaining unit. Just as with a national election, low voter turnout can have a significant impact. If less than a majority of eligible voters vote, the choice is made by less than a majority of the employees in the unit.

What is a bargaining unit?

A bargaining unit is a group of employees with titles and job duties that form a sufficient "community of interest" that a union can reasonably represent those employees, particularly when negotiating conditions of employment. Except for the skilled crafts titles and house staff titles, HEERA presumes that an appropriate unit is one that is “systemwide," meaning it includes all employees in a vocational grouping at all UC locations in California.

The law carries certain restrictions on who can form a bargaining unit. For example, supervisors are prohibited from establishing bargaining units.

How many bargaining units are there at UC?

There are 13 systemwide bargaining groups currently at UC:

In addition, there are 14 campus-specific bargaining units, primarily for skilled craft titles, safety employees and house staff. A PERB-established unit within UC which is currently non-unionized is the Academic Researchers (Unit 19 or FX).

Can a unit change representation?

Yes. A petition can be filed with PERB requesting it investigate and decide whether employees want to decertify their exclusive representative. The petition must state that the employees no longer want the union to be their exclusive representative, and must be supported by at least 30 percent of the employees in that unit. These employees can indicate either support for another union or no support for the current union.

If these requirements are met, PERB will hold a decertification election. If another union has received a 30 percent showing of support, the choices on the PERB election ballot would be the existing union, the other union, and "No Representation.” If no other union is involved, the choices would be between the existing union and "No Representation." A majority of the votes cast wins.

A petition of decertification can be filed after a contract expires or if the contract has been in effect for three or more years. PERB will deny a petition for a decertification election if the current union was elected within the last 12 months. PERB will also dismiss a petition if a contract between the employees' union and the university has been in effect for less than three years, unless the decertification petition is filed within a 30-day window that occurs 90 to 120 days before the contract expires.

Who pays for negotiations?

The university pays for university expenses, and the union pays for union expenses.

About forming a union

I have been asked to sign a union authorization card or a petition to unionize. What is this?

Union authorization cards and petitions are used to collect signatures in support of unionizing. Signing an authorization card or a petition means you want the union to be your exclusive representative.

How many signatures does the union need to collect?

If a union gathers signatures from a simple majority (50 percent plus one) of the employees in the target group, that union automatically becomes the representative for all employees in that group – including those who didn't sign authorization cards or a petition. No election is held in that situation.

If a union gets signatures from at least 30 percent of the targeted employees but less than a simple majority, PERB will hold an election in which eligible employees can vote to decide whether to be exclusively represented by that union.

Do I have to belong to the union to sign an authorization card or petition, or vote in an election on whether to form a union?

No. If your position is included in the proposed bargaining unit, your signature counts. If an election is held, you would be eligible to vote.

If there is an election, what are the choices on the ballot?

You would choose between "No Representation" (i.e., no exclusive representation) and at least one union. The winning option would be the one receiving a simple majority of the votes cast. If "No Representation" is selected, you would not be represented by the union and would continue to participate in the university's personnel programs. You would, however, continue to be able to choose any union or individual to represent you.

Do I have to vote for the union because I signed an authorization card/petition or because I am a member of the union?

If there is an election, you have the choice about how you vote. Even if you signed an authorization card, you can decide to vote for "No Representation" at the election. Elections are by secret ballot.

Is there a minimum percentage of eligible voters that must vote to decide the election?

No. A simple majority (50 percent plus one vote) of the votes cast will decide the election for the whole bargaining unit. This decision will bind all employees who are eligible to vote, regardless of whether they vote. Voter indifference and apathy can result in a minority of the unit deciding the issue for the majority.

What can employees do to support or oppose the union during a representation drive?

Whether you support or oppose the union, you have the same rights. You can freely discuss experiences and opinions with fellow employees, pointing out the reasons why you feel the way you do about the union. Such discussions should not be held in the workplace during work time, however.

If not enough signatures in support of a union are gathered or the majority of those voting in an election decide against having a union, can the issue be revisited later?

Yes. A petition for a new election can be filed after one year.

Who pays for the election?

The election is conducted by the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). No fee is charged for the election.