This past legislative session saw big changes to Minnesota Statute Chapter 179A, the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (“PERLA.”) The biggest change was the reemergence of the (PERB). The creation of the PERB was one of the biggest changes since PERLA was enacted in the 1970’s. Minnesota has previously had a PERB, however, its responsibilities were eventually shifted to a different bureau.

The PERB will be tasked with hearing unfair labor practice cases that in the past were handled by Minnesota courts and fall under Minn. Stat. § 179A.13. The PERB will consist of three members. Two of the members will be appointed by the governor. One of the governor appointees will represent public employers and the other will represent exclusive representatives. The third board member is then selected by the other two members who will serve the “public at large.”

Supporters of the change, namely unions, state that the change will cut down on money spent in courts and the time it takes to resolve such disputes. An example the supporters of the bill highlighted was the recent case were City of Bloomington taxpayers footed $150,000 in legal fees to fight a union.

The idea behind the PERB is to mirror the process in the private sector where disputes are resolved using the National Labor Relations Board. The National Labor Relations Board’s Administrative Law Judge’s decide complaints of unfair labor practices issued by regional directors that do not lead to settlement.

A hearing in front of a National Labor Relations Board judge involves much of the same process as would be had in a court proceeding. Both parties present evidence, witnesses, experts and prepare arguments. After a decision is issued it is reviewed by the Board in Washington, D.C. A reviewed decision can be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under the new rule, if a PERB hearing officer determines an unfair labor practice has occurred, a recommended decision and order shall be issued stating findings of fact and conclusions, and requiring the party to cease and desist from unfair labor practice. It also authorizes reinstatement orders, back pay and compensatory damages up to three times the actual damages. Like the National Labor Relations Board decisions, Minnesota’s PERB decisions may be reviewed by the Court of Appeals.