The Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA) establishes the rules for collective
bargaining between Minnesota public employers and representatives of public
employees. PELRA grants public employees the right to unionize and to bargain collectively, sets
the criteria for establishment of bargaining units, provides procedures for
election of exclusive representatives, and contains procedures for resolving
impasses in bargaining.
The legislature established in statute the bargaining units
for executive branch state employees.
There are 17 executive branch bargaining units, based on occupational lines. For
example, all clerical employees in the executive branch are assigned to one bargaining unit, and
all registered nurses are in another. Before 1980, there were well over
100 bargaining units for executive employees, with employees in different agencies
and geographical locations often being assigned to different units. For
example, nurses in the state human services system were in different bargaining
units from nurses in the state correctional system.
The legislature has established separate bargaining units for judicial branch
State employees within a bargaining unit can choose whether or not to be represented by a union.
Currently almost all executive employees who can be unionized have chosen to be unionized.
Approximately 90 percent of the state work force is represented by unions. The
largest state employee union, AFSCME, represents 7 of the 17 bargaining units,
covering approximately 17,000 employees (some of whom are part-time). The next
largest union, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, represents
over 13,500 employees (some part-time).
PELRA requires public employers to meet and negotiate with elected public employee unions on
"terms and conditions of employment."
The duty to meet and negotiate in good faith does not compel either the employer or the
union to agree to a proposal. The Commissioner of Management and Budget has been
designated the "employer" for purposes of bargaining with state employees.
The statute defines "terms and conditions of employment" to include hours of employment,
compensation (including fringe benefits), and personnel policies affecting
working conditions. However, a public employer is not required to negotiate on
matters of inherent managerial policy, such as the functions and programs of the
employer, its overall budget, use of technology, organizational structure, and
selection and direction of personnel. PELRA also prohibits bargaining over
pension benefits, which are established in other law.
PELRA sets procedures for resolving impasses when the public employer and the union are not
able to reach agreement on a contract.
The initial step in impasse resolution is mediation. In this process a mediator from the
Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) attempts to assist the two sides in reaching
Another tool for resolving impasses is binding arbitration. Arbitration that establishes the
terms of a contract is known as interest arbitration. For most employees,
interest arbitration is available only if the employer and the union
agree to use it. For employees designated as essential, the union can have the
matter sent to arbitration if the BMS finds that good-faith bargaining has
occurred and that there is an impasse. PELRA specifies procedures for selection
of an arbitrator. Once the arbitrator renders an award, it is binding on both sides.
Employees who are not designated essential may strike after their contract expires and after
certain procedural and notice requirements are met. Essential employees cannot legally strike.
The legislature has designated some state employee bargaining units as "essential units."
Employees in units designated as essential cannot legally strike. Instead, impasses in
bargaining are resolved through binding arbitration. The state units designated
as essential are those covering law enforcement officials (state patrol, DNR
game wardens, and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents), registered nurses,
correctional guards, supervisors, public safety radio communications officers, and professional engineers.
Tentative agreements between the state and state employee unions must be approved by the
legislature before becoming final.
Contracts usually are put into effect on a temporary basis after being approved by the
Legislative Subcommittee on Employee Relations. This subcommittee forwards approved
agreements to the next session of the legislature for final ratification. The
legislature can reject a tentative agreement. For more information on the
legislative approval process see the House Research publication
Review of State Employee Collective Bargaining Agreements.