Monday, July 21, 2014

PERB: "Economic Exigency" Not Enough to Declare Impasse

In Selma Firefighters Association, IAFF, Local 3716 v. City of Selma, the Public Employment Relations Board ("PERB") took a hard line against employers’ citing economic exigency to declare impasse.

The City of Selma engaged in MOU negotiations with Selma Firefighters’ Association. During the bargaining process, the City abruptly ended negotiations and declared impasse. The City imposed it’s last, best, and final offer to the Selma Firefighters’ Association, claiming economic exigencies and a budget deadline warranted the impasse.

The City argued this budgeting deadline was relevant because the MOU must be agreed to prior to the next year’s budget being adopted. PERB found against the City. The Board held economic exigency did not warrant the City of Selma to declare impasse and impose its last, best, and final offer. In fact, the Board explained “it has long been noted that such economic exigency provides no justification for suspending the duty to bargain in good faith.” The Board also held an impending budget deadline did not justify the bargaining impasse. The Board ruled collective bargaining has no necessary linkage with the budgetary process.

This decision strengthens employee groups' bargaining position. The case creates a clear precedent that arguments like those utilized by the City of Selma are improper. Employers attempting to justify unilateral action based on claimed “fiscal emergencies” are not operating under an exception to their bargaining obligation. Additionally, an agreement does not need to be reached before a City’s final budget is adopted for the upcoming year.

Monday, July 14, 2014

9th Circuit: LAPD Retaliated Against Officer for FLSA Testimony

In Avila v. LAPD, the Ninth Circuit ruled the Los Angeles Police Department violated the FLSA’s anti-retaliation clause when it fired a “model” officer after testifying against the department in a fellow officer’s FLSA case. The FLSA anti-retaliation provision protects employees from discharge or discrimination based on giving testimony in any FLSA proceeding.

LAPD terminated Avila after he testified in a FLSA lawsuit brought by fellow officer, Edward Maciel, who sought overtime pay for working through his lunch hours. Avila testified he periodically worked through his lunch break and did not claim overtime because it was a common practice in the department. After an investigation, the LAPD Board of Rights recommended termination. Avila had no record of discipline.

The court emphasized the sole issue before the jury was whether LAPD’s reason for firing Officer Avila was pretext, not whether LAPD could fire the officer for failing to report overtime or whether Avila’s testimony could be used in an administrative hearing. Thus, the court determined LAPD could not support any viable argument that Avila would not have been terminated if he had not testified at Maciel’s trial. However, the court stated it would not decide whether the use of an employee’s trial testimony was entirely forbidden in an adverse action where the employer has other evidence of the alleged infraction.

Ultimately, the decision confirms the protection afforded to public employees who enforce the FLSA. Avila was awarded $579,400 in attorney fees and $50,000 in liquidated damages.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Illinois Supreme Court: Pensions Protected By State Constitution

In Kanerva v. Weems (July 3, 2014), the Illinois Supreme Court ruled health-insurances subsidies for retired state workers are protected under the Illinois Constitution. The ruling poses a challenge to Illinois’ recent pension reform legislation and may force the State to consider raising revenue rather than cutting benefits.

Recently, the State attempted to reform the pension system by imposing healthcare insurance premiums on its retired workers, reducing cost-of-living increases for pensions, raising retirement ages, and limiting the salaries on which pensions are based. Retirees challenged a recent amendment to the State Employees Group Insurance Act, arguing it violated pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution. The high court agreed, finding the pension protection clause applies to an Illinois public employer’s obligation to contribute to the cost of health care benefits for employees covered by one of the state retirement systems.

In a similar case, David E. Mastagni and Isaac S. Stevens, obtained a decision in the Los Angeles County Superior Court for the Los Angeles City Attorneys’ Association (LACAA). They argued the City of Los Angeles’ freeze ordinance, which capped retiree medical premiums at $1,190 with no increases, unconstitutionally impaired a contractual obligation to LACAA’s members because a maximum medical plan premium subsidy is a vested right. The court agreed, finding the freeze ordinance was an impairment of a vested right to a substantial or reasonable benefit and issued a writ of mandate directing the City to compute and provide the health insurance premium to LACAA’s members without regard to the City’s freeze ordinance.

Friday, June 27, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Rules President Obama Invalidly Appointed National Labor Relations Board Members

On June 26, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court decided NLRB v. Noel Canning. The Court set aside a National Labor Relations Board ("Board") order because the Board lacked a quorum when it issued the order. The Court ruled the Board lacked a quorum because President Obama invalidly appointed three of the five Board members. This decision may impact other cases decided by the unlawfully appointed Board members.

The case began as a labor dispute between a labor union and Pepsi-Cola distributor Noel Canning. The Board ruled the distributor unlawfully refused to execute a collective-bargaining agreement with the labor union. The Board ordered the distributor to execute the agreement and compensate employees for any losses. The distributor challenged the Board's order, arguing the Board could not take legal action because the President invalidly appointed three of the five Board members. Three lawfully appointed Board members are required for the Board to take any action.

President Obama appointed the three Board members on January 4, 2012 during a three-day Senate recess. Interpreting the Constitution's Recess Appointments Clause, the Court held a three-day recess is too short to trigger the President's recess-appointment power. Since the President invalidly appointed three of the five Board members, the Board lacked a quorum when it ordered the distributor to execute the collective-bargaining agreement and compensate employees for any losses.

This ruling may have far-reaching consequences. Many cases decided by the invalidly appointed Board members could be affected. The Board Chairman, Mark Gaston Pearce, stated the Board now has a quorum of validly appointed Board members and the agency is analyzing the impact of the Court's decision on other cases.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Court of Appeal Blocks Criminal's Attempt to Bypass Pitchess

In People v. Davis (Cal. Ct. App., June 12, 2014) 14 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 6496, an appeals court held a convicted criminal could not bypass the Pitchess process on appeal.  The defendant attempted to get access to a peace officer's personnel file to try to claim the court made a mistake when it did not grant a Pitchess motion before trial.  The court decided he did not have a right to independent appellate review concerning a post-judgment Brady order. 

Instead, the court decided even in cases where a defendant can get discovery after a trial, he must comply with the Pitchess v. Superior Court, procedure and requirements.  The requirements include showing that the discovery sought is material to pending litigation.

Friday, June 20, 2014

US Supreme Court: Public Employee Testimony Protected By First Amendment

On June 19, 2014, in Lane v. Franks, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled an employee’s testimony was protected by the First Amendment because it was a citizen’s speech on a matter of public concern.

Edward Lane directed a program for underprivileged youth at Central Alabama Community College. Lane audited the program’s expenses and found an employee, Suzanne Schmitz, had not been reporting for work. Lane terminated Schmitz’ employment and testified against her in federal court. Schmitz was sentenced to 30 months on charges of mail fraud and theft.

After the trial, the college’s president, Franks, fired 29 employees, including Lane. Franks claimed the action was an attempt to fix the college’s budget. He then rehired all but two of the employees. Franks did not rehire Lane.

In response, Lane filed a civil rights lawsuit. Lane claimed Franks violated the First Amendment by firing him in retaliation for testifying against Schmitz. If a public employee speaks in the course of their ordinary duties, the employee is not speaking as a citizen for First Amendment purposes. But in this case, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Lane’s sworn testimony was outside the scope of his normal duties and entitled to First Amendment protection.

The Court also ruled the testimony was on a matter of public concern.  If a public employee speaks on a matter of public concern, the government must have adequate justification for treating the employee differently. Whether speech is a matter of public concern turns on the content, form, and context of the speech.

Here, the Court held corruption in a public program and misuse of state funds are matters of significant public concern. Speech by public employees related to their employment holds special value because those employees gain knowledge of matters of public concern through their employment.

Because the Court ruled the testimony was a public concern, it then decided if the college lacked adequate justification for firing Lane. The college did not assert or demonstrate any government interest for their treatment of Lane. Therefore, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Friday, June 6, 2014

PERB Rules County Rushed to Declare Impasse

In SEIU Local 721 v. County of Riverside, the Public Employment Relations Board ("PERB") took a hard line against employers that rush to declare impasse.

SEIU and Riverside County started negotiations over a new MOU in late March 2009.  The existing MOU was set to expire on June 30, 2009.  The County sought significant economic concessions.  On June 22, the County presented SEIU with a complete proposed MOU. 

SEIU responded with various counteroffers.  However, the County abruptly ended negotiations and declared impasse.  The County provided several reasons for declaring impasse, including that it could not come up with a counterproposal on an issue regarding stewards' pay.  SEIU responded that the steward's pay issue was not a deal-breaker, and that it was willing to stay all night to complete negotiations.

The County met with SEIU on July 27, but it refused to accept any offers from SEIU.  The County informed SEIU it believed mediation and factfinding would be fruitless and that it would be imposing its LBFO on July 30.  However, the County also said it would be open to negotiations after July 30.

SEIU and the County met on August 10 and 19 and agreed on a new MOU.  The MOU had an effective date of August 1 and eliminated step increases.  But when SEIU learned in September that the County had refused to pay step increases to those employees entitled to them in July, it filed an unfair practice charge.

PERB ruled negotiations were not at a genuine impasse on July 27.  It found the County declared impasse solely because it wanted to take unilateral action.  PERB ordered the County to provide back pay.  PERB also ruled it did not have to apply the "totality of the circumstances" test for bad faith.  Instead, the County's unilateral change of wages (by elimination of the July step increases) was a per se violation.

This decision strengthens employee groups' bargaining position.  When challenging an agency's declaration of impasse, employee organizations do not have to show bad faith by the agency.  Instead, employee organizations only need to show the declaration of impasse was premature.