Thursday, April 6, 2017

Senate Bill Would Allow Unions to Recover Attorney's Fees in Some Cases

A bill in the State Senate could have a significant impact on public school employee unions.  Senator Pan (D-Sacramento) proposed SB 550.  The bill seeks to amend EERA section 3543.8.  If the amendment becomes law, unions would have the ability to seek attorney’s fees in actions over an employer’s failure to pay wages and benefits required by state law.

The key issue will be whether the action alleges that an employer did not pay state mandated wages or benefits.  If the union wins, and previously gave the employer 30 days-notice that they are seeking attorney’s fees, courts will be required to award reasonable fees and expenses to the union.  The employer would not be allowed to collect fees if the action does not prevail.

It is not clear which specific wages and fees are referred to in the bill.  One commentator has suggested SB 550 does not cover overtime for public school teachers because public employees are exempt from overtime laws in most cases.  Additionally, longevity pay and differentials are usually controlled by MOUs, and are not mandated by state law.