Thursday, July 9, 2009
S.C. to Decide if City Must Negotiate Firefighter Layoffs
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide whether local governments must negotiate with employee unions over layoffs when the effect may be to endanger worker safety.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, voted unanimously to hear the union’s appeal in 172 Cal.App.4th 265. The First District Court of Appeal, Div. Three, ruled March 18 that reductions in force based on economic conditions are not a subject of mandatory bargaining under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act. ,
The litigation stems from an unfair labor practice charge filed against the city of Richmond in 2004 by the union representing its firefighters. The union claimed that the city violated the MMBA, which is the primary state legislation governing local government labor relations, by failing to meet and confer in good faith over the city’s decision to reduce staffing levels.
The filing of the charge followed the city’s layoffs of 18 firefighters, which it claimed was necessary due to a severe financial crisis. The city also instituted reductions in the number of firefighters working each shift.
After the Public Employment Relations Board rejected the charge on the ground that “the decision to lay off employees is not subject to bargaining,” the union filed an amended charge alleging that the city was putting firefighters at risk by reducing the number of engines and trucks that could respond to a fire.
The board again rejected the charge. The union’s petition for writ of mandate was denied by Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Steven K. Austin, who cited Fire Fighters Union v. City of Vallejo (1974) 12 Cal.3d 608.
Presiding Justice William McGuiness, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed with the union and the trial judge that PERB’s rejection of an unfair labor practices complaint is subject to judicial review when the decision violates a constitutional rights, exceeds a specific grant of authority or erroneously construes an applicable statute.
The jurist added a caveat, however. Such review is by traditional, not administrative, mandamus, so the petitioner must show that PERB committed clear legal error.
Addressing the merits, McGuiness said PERB was correct in construing the MMBA and Vallejo as requiring local governments to negotiate over workplace and safety concerns resulting from layoffs, but not over the layoffs themselves. “Local 188’s attempt to recast the layoff decision as a reduction in shift staffing does not transform it into a proper subject of collective bargaining,” the jurist wrote.
In other conference action yesterday, the justices:
•Declined to get involved in a dispute between dissident members of a Los Angeles church and the Pentecostal Christian denomination with which they affiliate. The justices unanimously left standing a Court of Appeal ruling in favor of the dissidents, who claim the denomination stole their church and its real property amid a dispute between pastors.
Reversing a trial court’s decision, Div. Seven held in April that the Southern Pacific Latin American District of the Assemblies of God exceeded its authority when it took over Iglesia Evangelica Latina’s board in 2005 and transferred 16 parcels of real property to itself. The case is Iglesia Evangelica Latina, Inc. v. Southern Pacific Latin American District of the Assemblies of God (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 420.
•Denied a request by the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers to depublish a March 27 ruling by this district’s Div. Eight, which held that an order denying monetary sanctions for a discovery violation may be appealed in a case where there is no final judgment and the ruling might never be reviewable otherwise.
The case, which arose out of sculptor and Santa Monica resident Manfred Muller’s medical malpractice suit against doctors who treated him after a 1999 auto accident, is Muller v. Fresno Community Hospital & Medical Center (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 887. The court ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear Muller’s appeal from an order denying sanctions for intentional concealment of expert opinion contrary to the defendants’ position, although it affirmed that order on the merits.
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