Shake Up of Labor Agencies in Mass.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 14, a new labor-relations agency replaces and consolidates three long-standing agencies overseeing labor-management relations in Massachusetts. The new Division of Labor Relations came into existence as the result of legislation merging the Labor Relations Commission (where I was a staff counsel in the 1980s), the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration and the Joint Labor Management Committee for Municipal Police and Fire. The new DLR will carry out the administrative functions of all three agencies.

The restructuring came about as the result of a bill filed Sept. 13 by Gov. Deval Patrick, HB 4244. The bill passed the Senate on Oct. 16, the House on Oct. 17 and was signed by the governor Oct. 17. The bill had the support of a number of labor unions in the state.

In a statement issued after filing the bill, Gov. Patrick said its purpose was to combat long-time operational inefficiency and improve performance following reports of a more than 600 case backlog at the LRC and overlap in duplicative administrative functions.

As enacted, the bill does the following:

  • Creates the Division of Labor Relations, administered by a director appointed by the governor.
  • Creates within the division a dispute resolution office, composed of hearing officers, mediators, arbitrators, investigators and others. Their charge is to seek to resolve labor disputes through the use of prehearing investigative conferences, expedited hearings, mediation, deferral to arbitration, and other dispute resolution procedures.
  • Creates within the division an advisory council to advise the division concerning policies, practices and specific actions that the division might implement to better discharge its labor relations duties. The council is to have 13 members appointed by the governor: five from public-sector labor unions, five representing public-sector managers, and three at-large members.
  • Creates within the division an employment relations board of three members appointed by the governor to five-year staggered terms, with one designated as chair. (This resembles the former Labor Relations Commission.) This board will be responsible for issuing decisions under G.L. c. 150E, the public-employee labor relations law.
  • Places within the division the Joint Labor-Management Committee.
  • Amends G.L. c. 150E to allow an investigator to dismiss a prohibited practice complaint or refer it to mediation or arbitration, in contrast to the former law’s requirement that the full commission make this decision.
  • Changes the procedures for conducting hearings in prohibited practice cases, providing that the hearings will be conducted and the cases decided by hearing officers, unless the board accepts a party’s request to hear the case itself.