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.