The Delaware Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) is in its twenty-fifth year of operation. It administers public labor relations in much the same way as the NLRB oversees the private sector. On January 1st, Deborah Murray-Sheppard became the PERB’s new Executive Director. I recently had the opportunity to speak with her about PERB and the recent changes expanding PERB’s responsibilities.
Q: What’s new at the Public Employment Relations Board?
A: It certainly has been a time of change for PERB. First is the retirement on January 1 of my friend and mentor, Charlie Long, as Executive Director. He and I have worked as a team for 24 years. Fortunately, he has been working a couple of days a week to ease us through this transition.
In addition to a change at the top, PERB’s responsibility has continued to expand. For example, interest arbitration has been expanded to include virtually all public employers. Also, all State employees now have the right to bargain over wages for the first time.
Q: Can you give us a general breakdown of PERB’s workload?
A: PERB handled about 58 cases from April of last year to the present. Eight of those cases involved traditional unfair labor charges. About 29 cases involved the collective bargaining process, including three requests for binding interest arbitration and, 21 cases involved issues of representation.
Q: Binding arbitration has been one of the most important changes in public labor relations in many years. How’s it been working?
A: Well, the answer to that probably depends on who you’re asking. I can tell you that only a handful of requests actually have gone all the way to a hearing before an arbitrator. Most requests have been resolved through our pre-arbitration facilitation process. Of the three decisions issued by PERB, all three have been in favor of the employer.
Q: What cases are scheduled interest arbitration now?
A: We have only one right now. Certain employees at the Port of Wilmington are scheduled for an interest arbitration hearing in late May. In addition, the state troopers have completed mediation and are participating in our pre-arbitration facilitation process. Recently, two cases were settled by the parties before a hearing. The City of Wilmington was able to reach an agreement with its rank and file police officers and New Castle County was able to reach a tentative agreement with its blue collar workers.
Q: All State employees recently obtained the right to bargain over wages. How has that process been going?
A: We are still working our way through that process. Under the new law, PERB was required to place each state job into one of 12 statewide units. Unrepresented employees are now in a position of requesting that they be represented by a union for purpose of collective bargaining. We now have five such petitions pending. The petitions are in various stages of the process.
Q: What do you see on the horizon for PERB?
A: I think we’ll continue to be very busy. Over 50% of the collective bargaining agreements under our jurisdiction have expired or are about to expire. The volume of collective bargaining going on and the tight economic climate suggests that our services will continue to be in demand.
The PERB’s official website can be accessed here.