NPH Case Brief: The Six Month Clock to File an Unfair Labor Practice Charge – When does it begin to tick?

Beware of the Bell – it tolls for thee.  Hemingway wrote it in reference to his famous character Robert Jordan, but it is good advice for Unions and their members when dealing with disputes that are within the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Division of Labor Relations (DLR).  Failure to timely file complaints within the 6 month period could mean the death bell for the Union’s case.  So, when does the clock start ticking?

The DLR recently clarified the 6 month rule in a school committee case.  The basic rule isthis:  The clock begins to run as soon as the Union is (1) on notice that the Municipality intends to make a change to a mandatory subject of bargaining; and (2) it is apparent that bargaining by the union would be fruitless (i.e. the change is presented as fait accompli).

Under the rule, if the employer gives to the union notice of a proposed change in working conditions, and the union demands to bargain the proposed change, the 6 month clock does not begin to run until it becomes apparent that the employer is not bargaining in good faith, or is not willing to bargain until impasse. Once the union realizes that bargaining is futile, the clock starts.

This is a very important statute of limitations for unions, as Cities and Towns frequently request dismissal of cases on this basis.  In fact, as many of you know, employers have been known to hide in the weeds, and bank on local unions not keeping track of the time limit.  It is important to mark this crucial date, and be sure to file when necessary.

The DLR case on the issue (school case) is Town of East Bridgewater, MUP-07D-5095 (2012).