The Role of Labor Relations at APC – The History of LR

The History of LR

This article is the first in a 4-part series exploring the vital role of Labor Relations at APC. We review its history, operations, and significant impact on the union and its members.

Labor Relations at APC plays a crucial role in APC. Lee Norris, Labor Relations Manager, describes how the LR Team works on behalf of Union members in contract negotiations, handling contract enforcement, and ensures APC meets all of its legal obligations. In this article, Norris sheds light on the role of how Labor Relations helps make APC the strongest union it can be.

The History of Labor Relations

The foundation of Labor Relations at APC traces back to the signing of HEERA (The Higher Education Employer Reform Act) in 1980 by Governor Jerry Brown. Initially known as UPC (United Professors of California) the Union later evolved into and remains APC (Academic Professionals of California). While the name changed the underlying duty to negotiate on behalf of all bargaining unit members remains.  From the outset and through the mid-90’s, negotiations, advice on governance issues, and contract enforcement were primarily handled by outside counsel, funded by dues paid by APC members.  About 1996 APC hired its first contract consultant to provide all those services, and to support the frontline campus stewards.

In 2000, APC leadership wanted to professionalize its labor relations operations.  This began with hiring Lee Norris as the first Labor Relations Representative.  He later transitioned to the role of Labor Relations Manager in 2013, and over time the LR Team has grown to include Cynthia Brown (2020) and Bill Cruice (2022).

Labor Relations’ role in the 2000’s was primarily focused on litigation (contract enforcement, grievances and unfair practice charges), due to strained relations between CSU and all its unions.  The CSU fostered an adversarial environment in which the Parties most often engaged in lawfare to resolve their differences.

The LR Team’s goal is to provide advice and service to elected officers, campus stewards and bargaining unit members.  The Team’s philosophy is to remain neutral and provide consistent advice irrespective of whom holds office in APC.  This is done to ensure APC follows the best practices and is not placed in legal jeopardy.  The LR Team enjoys decision-making authority in certain areas (e.g., contract interpretation), ultimate decisions about governance, during bargaining and other contentious issues lie with elected officers, stewards, Statewide Council and ultimately APC’s members.

Compliance within the Union

“It’s our job to steer the union away from trouble. We have a duty of fair representation, and we must ensure that we treat similarly situated employees alike.” Norris continued, “Otherwise we could violate our duty of fair representation and place the Union in legal jeopardy.”

During contract negotiations, LR serves several roles: chief spokesperson, ensuring the Union’s proposals are legal, writing language and providing advice on strategy. In fact, it is important to understand certain proposals are, on their face, illegal (prohibited): making a proposal that would require the University to violate a legal mandate. Norris said, “While we must steer away from making illegal proposals, we must still make every effort to enhance the working conditions of all Unit 4 employees.”

As we’ve seen, the foundation and evolution of Labor Relations at APC have played a pivotal role in shaping the union’s strength and efficacy. From its inception following the signing of HEERA to the professionalization of its operations in the 2000s, Labor Relations has been at the forefront of negotiating on behalf of its members and ensuring the union’s compliance with legal standards.

This commitment to representation and fairness sets the stage for deeper insights into how APC navigates contract negotiations, handles grievances, and enforces contracts to protect its members. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where we will explore the challenges and strategies involved in contract negotiations and the vital role of Labor Relations in this intricate process.

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