Relationship between Impasse & striking
As public employees, we don't have the right to go on strike anytime we like. Whereas private labor unions can as they are governed under the National Labor Relations Act, and the National Labor Relations Board hears their issues, we are different. The Educational Employees Act ("EERA") is the legislation that governs our collective bargaining rights, and the Public Employees' Relations Board ("PERB") hears our issues.
When we are so dissatisfied with the District's offer that we want to walk away from the table, here's the process through which we must go:
1. Last, Best & Final Offer
The gesture the District must make to indicate that it has come to the end of what it will bring to the table is to state that what they are offering is its Last, Best & Final offer." This is a district's way to declare impasse, and can impose the LBFO at the end of the entire impasse process. The Association can declare impasse when it perceives that future bargaining sessions are futile as there is nothing more to say.
The parties notify the Public Employee Relations Board ("PERB") that the parties are at impasse. This informs PERB that a district and union need outside help to settle negotiations. PERB has to determine that an impasse indeed exists and then has five (5) days to appoint a mediator.
Once the mediator is appointed, s/he has 15 days to persuade the parties to resolve their differences and come to a mutually acceptable agreement. S/he meets with the parties either jointly or separately, and takes whatever other steps s/he thinks useful in order to get to a settlement. (PERB, not the parties, pays for the mediator's services, BTW.)
If the mediator is unable to get the two sides to agree and s/he declares that factfinding is appropriate to the resolution of the impasse, either party may, by written notification to the other, request that their differences be submitted to a factfinding panel.
Should mediation fail, either party can request the impasse be sent to fact finding. While fact finding sounds like a neutral investigation of a district's financial books to see if there is sufficient money to pay for an association's requested raise, it is not. It is mainly an adversarial hearing, much like arbitration.
Within ten days of requesting fact finding, a panel of three hearing officers is created: each side has five days to pick a panel member and PERB has five more days to choose the chairperson. The panel is allowed to request whatever records/documents it would like to look at, and at the hearing, the district and the union present evidence about comparable wages in other school districts, the district's ability to afford the requested wages, and such like.
While this is going on, the parties can still try to settle. If the dispute is not settled within 30 days after the appointment of the panel (longer if both sides agree) the panel makes findings of fact and recommends terms of settlement. They must be submitted in writing to the parties privately before they are made public, and the district has to make the findings and recommendations public within 10 days after their receipt. Note: the panels recommendations are advisory only; either side may reject them.
If either side rejects the fact finding panel's recommendations, now and only now are the parties free to act.
The district can impose its Last, Best and Final Offer on the association. Imposition is a legal statement of "take it or leave it."
The association is free to strike once the recommendations come out.
At any point during this process, the parties are free to come together and try to settle their dispute. For example, in the near-strike in 2001, AEA took the fact finders' recommendations, modified with them, went to AUSD. At 1:00 a.m., the District acceded to our wishes, and the 6:00 a.m. picket line was called off.