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Chapter 21: Labor & Employee Relations

Labor relations between the University and/or employees and employee organizations are governed by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (the HEERA). The HEERA is administered by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). Most campus employees have the right to form, join, and participate in unions as well as the right not to form, join, or participate in unions. Most employees may elect unions or employee organizations to represent them in negotiations regarding terms and conditions of employment. Employees may be represented by individuals or unions during investigatory interviews or in the grievance process. Before the passage of the HEERA in 1979, two parties participated in departmental personnel activities: you, as a representative of the University, and your employees. Systemwide staff personnel policies, campus procedures, and departmental work rules were conceived and put into operation by the University. Managers and supervisors were able to act more or less unilaterally in making decisions about employees. After 1979 a third party, the union, was legally inserted as a participant in the University’s personnel activities. On many issues concerning employees the University must consult, and in some cases reach agreement with, the union before acting. While the legalistic framework of the work environment may have changed, the needs of your employees and the principles of good personnel management have not. This chapter will discuss some of your common responsibilities in areas where the union may be a participant. It is not intended to modify the fundamental principles of human resources, personnel management, and employee communications, or to change the way you relate to your employees.

Arbitration of Employee Complaints

When efforts to resolve an employee’s complaint through the grievance procedure fail, the employee and/or union can, in certain instances, appeal the matter to arbitration. At an arbitration hearing, a neutral third party hears testimony and reviews written exhibits presented by the employee/union and the University. The neutral party, or arbitrator, issues a written decision, which in most instances is final and binding on both parties.

Arbitration under PPSM Policies—Applicable to Professional and Support Staff

Only certain issues are subject to arbitration. See Personnel Policies for Staff Members .

Arbitration Under the Collective Bargaining Agreements

Generally, under the labor agreements, only the union may appeal issues to arbitration. The arbitrator, whose decisions are final and binding, is selected from a permanent preapproved panel. Costs are shared equally by the union and the University. Any grievance may be appealed to arbitration, but the University may argue at an arbitrability hearing that a particular issue is non-arbitrable based on the specific wording of the contract provision being arbitrated.

Preparing for the Arbitration Hearing

After the employee or union appeals the grievance to arbitration, you will be contacted by the Labor Relations Advocate in Human Resources who will represent you at the hearing. Based on the schedules of all likely arbitration participants, a date for the hearing will be determined by Human Resources. If a non-University arbitrator is selected, the hearing will normally be held approximately two months after selection of the arbitrator. Hearings involving University hearing officers can normally be scheduled sooner.

Approximately three weeks before the arbitration hearing, you will be contacted by the Labor Relations Advocate to schedule a meeting to review the pertinent documents and to make a final determination on the witness list.

Since you are the expert on the facts, you will have to gather all the documents used in the decision that provoked the grievance. You also will be asked to identify other employees who can provide pertinent verbal information.

Based on a review of your documents and interviews with all potential witnesses, you and the Labor Relations Advocate will decide what will finally be used in the grievance hearing. The Labor Relations Advocate will schedule at least one (usually two) appointments to review pertinent testimony with each University witness and to point out areas where they may be cross-examined, to avoid surprises at the hearing.

At the Arbitration Hearing

At the hearing you will be represented by the Labor Relations Advocate. Also in attendance will be one departmental representative (the department chair, the department’s chief staff manager, or you); the grievant; the grievant’s representative, if any; the arbitrator; and a court reporter or someone operating a tape recorder.

If the case involves discipline or dismissal, the University presents its case first and must prove that it acted in accordance with the policy or labor agreement provision cited in the employee’s grievance. In most other cases, the employee must proceed first and must prove that the cited policy or contract provision was violated.

After an opening statement, the first party questions the witnesses it calls to support its side. Through these witnesses, documents are also entered into evidence. The second party has a chance to cross-examine the witnesses.

After the first party completes its case, the second party makes an opening statement, calls its witnesses, and introduces its evidence.

After all the testimony has been presented, both sides can make verbal closing remarks or agree to submit written briefs. The brief usually contains a summary of each party’s case and presents arguments to support its position. Briefs are usually due 30 days after the hearing or, if transcripts are made, 30 days after receipt of the transcripts. The arbitrator usually issues a decision within 30 days after the hearing or after the briefs are received.

Employee Complaint Procedures

In any employment situation, disagreements or differences between employees and supervisors can occur. When they do, it is important that you respond quickly and effectively so that a minor issue does not grow into an unresolvable one. If informal efforts to resolve a difference or dispute fail, all staff employees have access to a complaint procedure. These complaint procedures provide a precise structure for formally resolving issues in an orderly fashion. If efforts fail to resolve the disagreement or difference at each step of the procedure, certain issues can be submitted to arbitration, in which a third party makes a decision based on evidence and testimony provided at a formal hearing.

Guiding Principles

Conducting an Investigation

  Work with your L/ER Analyst, who can assist you in planning the investigation, developing your approach and questions, reviewing the results, making an assessment, and provide you a recommendation. 

Your most important role in responding to a complaint is to formulate your position on the employee’s verbal or written grievance. To make an informed decision that can be supported by your department and the campus, you must know all the facts—adverse facts as well as favorable ones. Thus, you must objectively investigate the assertions made by the employee.

The following guidelines will help you to conduct a thorough investigation:

Once you have formulated your position based on a thorough investigation, you can address the employee’s informal complaint. It is best to resolve issues at this stage before positions become hardened and intractable.

The Grievance Meeting

If you cannot resolve a grievance informally you may receive a written grievance, forwarded to you by Human Resources. Unfortunately, in some instances the written grievance may be the first sign you have that an employee has a complaint.

When you attend meetings to discuss the complaint with the employee, your role is to supply the factual information that supports the action you took and to listen for new information from the employee that could have a bearing on your decision. You should be as forthcoming as possible so that the employee and the representative, if any, will fully understand your position. You should also be willing to change your decision if warranted by new information gained during the meeting.

Grievance meetings are usually held at Step 2 of the Grievance procedure.  Your L/ER Analyst will meet with you prior to the meeting to prepare and review how such meetings are conducted and what to expect.

During the grievance meeting, remember the following:

You can always ask for time to think over the contents of the meeting and to discuss how it is being conducted with the L/ER Analyst.

Grievance Procedures

You may have to process complaints using different procedures, which are described in the specific labor agreement or policy covering the employee who files the complaint. Here are the most widely used procedures.

Service and Patient Care Technical Units: Grievance Procedure 

Step 1. A grievance is defined as a written complaint by an individual employee, a group of employees, or the union, involving an alleged violation of a specific provision of the agreement. After you receive the written grievance, you will be contacted by a representative from Human Resources to discuss the grievance and to schedule a meeting with the employee and the employee’s representative. The purpose of the Step 1 meeting which is conducted by Human Resources is to exchange information and to seek, if possible, a resolution that doesn’t set any precedent.

Unless the time limits have been mutually extended, you must prepare your written response and send it to the employee and the employee’s representative, if any, within 15 calendar days after receipt of the grievance by Human Resources.

Step 2 . If the grievance is not resolved at Step 1, the employee or union may appeal to Step 2. A Step 2 meeting will be conducted by your L/ER Analyst. As the immediate supervisor you are generally expected to represent the department at the Step 2 meeting. The purpose of the Step 2 meeting is for the Human Resources representative to get information from your department and the employee, the employee’s representative, and/or the union, so that a final campus response can be prepared.

The Labor/ Employee Relations Analyst will prepare the Step 2 response and send it to the appropriate parties.

Step 3. The grievant or the union may appeal the campus’ Step 2 decision to the Office of the President. The OP Director of Labor Relations issues the University’s final response based on a review of the written record.

With some exceptions, the union may appeal the University’s Step 3 response to arbitration (see Arbitration of Employee Complaints in this chapter).

Technical Unit: Grievance Procedure

Step 1. A grievance is defined as a written complaint by an individual employee, a group of employees, or UPTE, that the University has violated a specific provision of the agreement during the term of the agreement. After you receive the written grievance you will be contacted by a representative from Human Resources to discuss the grievance.

A meeting with the employee and the employee’s representative, if any, is optional. Either the University or the employee/representative may decline to participate.

Unless the time limits have been mutually extended, you must prepare your written response and send it to the employee and the employee’s representative, if any, within 15 calendar days after the formal grievance is received by Human Resources.

Step 2. If the grievance is not resolved at Step 1, the employee or union may appeal to Step 2. The appeal must be submitted within 15 calendar days of the date on which the Step 1 written response was issued or due. Your Department Chair or chief staff manager will determine who will represent the department at the Step 2 meeting. The Step 2 meeting is conducted by a representative from the Labor Relations Unit in Human Resources. The LR representative will get information from your department, the employee, the employee’s representative, and/or the union so that a final campus response can be prepared.

The Labor/Employee Relations Analyst will prepare the Step 2 response and send it to the appropriate parties.

Step 3. The grievant or the union may appeal the campus’ Step 2 decision to the Office of the President (OP). The OP Director of Labor Relations issues the University’s final response based on a review of the written record.

With some exceptions, the union may appeal the University’s Step 3 response to arbitration. (see Arbitration of Employee Complaints in this chapter).

PPSM 70: Complaint Resolution

When a Professional and Support Staff (PSS) employee submits a complaint, it may pertain to a management act that adversely affects the terms and conditions of employment or to a violation of PPSM policy. All complaints proceed through a review and response by the department head. Only certain issues can proceed to arbitration, as identified in the policy.

If the employee is not satisfied with the department head’s response regarding a non-arbitrable issue, the employee or the Vice Chancellor designee may request that a fact finder be appointed to investigate the complaint and prepare a fact finding report. The responsible Vice Chancellor or designee will issue a final decision based on the facts contained in the report. If a fact finder is not appointed, the Vice Chancellor or designated Step II reviewer will issue a final decision based on her review of the complaint.

  If the employee is not satisfied with the department head’s response regarding an arbitrable issue, the complaint can then be appealed to arbitration. The hearing can be conducted by an internal hearing officer supplied free-of-charge by the campus or by an outside arbitrator if the employee agrees to pay one-half of the expenses.

  Complaints filed by Managers and Staff Professional (MSP) employees are not eligible for arbitration. All complaints proceed to a review and response by the department head. If the complaint is not resolved with this response, the employee may request that a fact finder be appointed. The Vice Chancellor or designee will issue a final decision based on the fact finder’s report, or based on review of the complaint if no fact finder was appointed.

Grievance Settlements

In many cases, after further investigation of information exchanged during grievance meetings, you and/or the employee may change your assessment of the issues in the complaint. Maybe there were extenuating circumstances that you did not know until the meeting; maybe at the meeting the employee came to understand that other employees were treated in the same manner. Further, either party may decide that pursuing the grievance is not as important as settling the complaint; or you could conclude that it is not worth the time, effort, and expense involved in pursuing the matter. Additionally, in some cases, you may be advised by the L/ER Analyst conducting your meeting with the employee that you do not have a reasonable chance of prevailing should the employee further appeal the grievance.

In such cases, L/ER will represent you in seeking a no-fault, non-precedent-setting, written settlement with the employee and, if applicable, the union. The specific terms of the settlement agreement are structured to address the precise issues of the grievance. Typically, for grievances involving discipline or dismissal, in exchange for your reducing the penalty, the employee agrees to drop all complaint proceedings against the department, e.g., you exchange the possibility of your two-day suspension prevailing in a grievance hearing with an uncontested letter of warning, which cannot be grieved.

Employee Representation

The campus has both exclusively-represented employees and non-represented employees.

Exclusive Representatives

An organization which has won the right (by employee vote conducted by the PERB) to represent a certain group of employees with related job classifications is known as an exclusive representative. The University may address only that organization concerning matters of rights for those employees. These employees are covered by a bi-lateral collective bargaining agreement or labor contract (Memorandum of Understanding-MOU) negotiated between the University and the exclusive representative.

The exclusive representatives at the University are:

  These unions represent employees as a group during contract negotiations with the University, resulting in one contract throughout the University system. The only exception is the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents skilled craft persons at the campus. Systemwide unions also have local chapters which provide representation for employees on individual issues such as grievances.

Non-Exclusive Representatives

Employees who are covered by the Personnel Policies for Staff Members do not currently have an exclusive representative. The California Court of Appeals has ruled that the University is obligated to notify individual employees of proposed changes in their wages, hours, terms, and conditions of employment, and to meet and discuss those changes with employees or their representatives, including employee organizations.


Representation of Supervisors


Supervisors also have rights under the HEERA to be represented in grievances and in meetings with management regarding their terms and conditions of employment; however, there are legal restrictions on those rights. Supervisory employees cannot elect an exclusive bargaining agent or negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Further, supervisory employees cannot represent nonsupervisory employees, or vice versa, in grievances or in discussions with management over wages, hours, or terms and conditions of employment. Managers and confidential employees do not have rights under the HEERA. They may not be represented in grievance matters investigatory interviews by supervisory or rank and file employees.

Managers, Supervisors, and Work Leaders

To function well, an organization needs designated managers and supervisors who have specific enduring assignments. Usually the charge given to such a manager or supervisor is responsibility for continuing operations. In some cases work leaders or forepersons assure that day-to-day operational tasks are completed accurately and on time. The rights and responsibilities of managers, supervisors, and work leaders are different.

Guiding Principles

Organize work to recognize the real and legal differences between managers, supervisors, and work leaders to:

HEERA Definitions

Under the HEERA most employees including work leaders can be exclusively represented by an employee organization. Exclusively represented employees are covered by a labor contract. On their Personnel Action Forms, these rank and file employees have an “E” Employee Relations Code. The Employee Relations Code is assigned to each position by the Human Resources Classification Unit based on a review of the job description or the job vacancy listing. The supervisory exclusion of HEERA is very close to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Case law under NLRA has not generally supported a management structure that establishes supervisors with responsibility for fewer than 2 FTE.

Although supervisors may join and participate in employee organizations, they cannot be exclusively represented on supervisory employer-employee relations issues. Neither can they participate in the same local union as exclusively represented employees. Supervisors have a “C” Employee Relations Code. Managerial employees (Employee Relations Code “A”) are not covered by the HEERA and thus have no legal rights to join or participate in employee organizations. A managerial employee is one who has significant responsibilities for formulating or administering policy or programs.

In addition to managers, confidential employees (Employee Relations Code “F”) are also excluded from HEERA and thus have no employee organizational rights. A confidential employee is one who is required to develop or present management’s position with respect to negotiations with unions, or whose duties normally require access to confidential information that contributes significantly to the development of such management positions. As a practical matter almost all confidential employees are in Human Resources and the Chancellor’s Office.

Tasks Typical of a Supervisor

A supervisor must perform at least three of the following tasks to be considered a supervisor under the HEERA:

Tasks Typical of a Work Leader

Usually work leaders spend a substantial portion of their time performing work identical to that assigned to their subordinates who are exclusively represented employees. A work leader typically:

Work Leaders Are Not Supervisors

Managers and supervisors are responsible for representing management in the work place. Thus, it has traditionally been held that it would be a conflict of interest to assign supervisory duties to exclusively represented employees, such as work leaders. You would, in effect, be asking a bargaining unit employee to represent management before another bargaining unit employee.

Because the supervisor/work leader distinction is universally recognized outside the University, arbitrators and agency investigators will make certain assumptions:


  When your department or unit is contemplating changes to the working environment that will affect an employee or group of employees, information about certain kinds of changes must be provided to the exclusive representatives. Of course you will want to begin informing your employees about your plans as early as possible. When a proposal has reached the stage of being reasonably certain (but not cast in stone yet), contact your L/ER Analyst, who will provide notice to the union.

Notice is the term used to describe this information process. You’ll hear it referred to as both a verb and a noun.

Why Provide Notice

  In some cases, whether or not to provide notice is stipulated in a labor contract.  Case law issued by the Public Employee Relations Board of the State of California also creates the obligation to notice.

For employees not represented by an exclusive representative those who are covered by Personnel Policies for Staff Members, for instance you are obligated to provide notice directly to the employee. The University has a policy of providing simultaneous notice to employee organizations that have expressed an interest in representing such employees.

When To Notice

  The best way to find out what your notice obligations are is to contact your L/ER Analyst as soon as you begin thinking about any of the changes listed below:

Notice Time Frames

The lead time for notice depends on the action you are considering. One issue would be a major reorganization that could create new reporting lines for employees, necessitate possible layoffs, create new layoff units, or change layoff units. (Most reorganizations don’t include all of these actions.)

  Layoffs may require advance notice to exclusive representatives before the formal letter is sent to the employee, up to 60 days ahead of the effective date of the action.

The obligation to provide advance notice of a proposed change in terms and conditions of employment is derived either from the case law interpreting HEERA for not exclusively-representative employees, or from the provisions of the existing labor contract for employees who are exclusively represented.

For non-exclusively-represented employees who have collective bargaining rights (excluding managers and confidential employees), the case law requires the employer to provide reasonable notice of substantial changes in terms and conditions of employment, with the opportunity for the employee to comment before the change is implemented. A reasonable notice period is generally interpreted to be 30 days, although there may be some flexibility in extenuating circumstances.

The obligations with respect to notice for labor agreements are outlined in the specific agreements. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least 45 days before the effective date of a proposed action, for notice on proposed actions other than layoff, and allow at least 90 days lead time for layoffs. This includes time to send written information to your Employee Relations Specialist, and time for questions from Human Resources before the Labor Relations Unit sends the actual notice letter.

Since most employees may access their rights to preference for rehire for up to two months before the effective date of a layoff, the earlier you can provide the notice information, the better (see Chapter 1, Employment for preferential rehire).

Here are the minimum time frames in which to provide the information to your Labor & Employee Analyst, so that the notice can be handled correctly:

Needed Information

  If you are considering major changes such as a reorganization or a layoff of a number of employees, ask your Labor & Employee Relations Analyst early in the process what information on will be needed. Often the L/ER Analyst will schedule a meeting with other HR specialists to help you get the full picture of what may be involved in your proposal.

Labor Relations needs to know:

When Notice Is Not Necessary

Some actions don’t call for notice; two examples are a change of assignment within a classification and a change of supervisors. Employees don’t have a right to always perform the same set of duties within their classification, nor do they have a right to determine who will be their supervisor.

There are other times when notice may not be necessary, but it’s best to check with your L/ER Analyst before you assume you don’t have to provide it.

Training Resources

Recommended training resources include:  “Supervising According to Union Contracts & PPSM”.  You can enroll for these and other courses at:  http://training.ucsf.edu/.