Tuesday, March 8, 2011
C.A. Says Alameda Court Illegally Refused to Bargain Over Layoffs
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Alameda Superior Court violated the Trial Court Employment Protection and Governance Act, as well as its own policies, by refusing to negotiate with an employee union over layoffs and to allow certain employees to accept demotion in lieu of being laid off, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Five sent the case back to the specially assigned trial judge, Presiding Court of Appeal Justice Robert Mallano of this district’s Div. One, for further hearings. Mallano heard the case because the act requires that an employment dispute between management-level workers and a court be heard by an appellate justice from another district.
Had the dispute not involved managerial employees, it would have been heard by the Public Employment Relations Board.
The ruling yesterday was on a petition for writ of mandate brought by the Alameda County Management Employees Association and several individuals, challenging the way the court conducted a significant layoff in June 2009. Looking to offset a budget reduction of nearly $6 million, the court axed 72 employees—37 represented by the Services Employees International Union, 28 by ACMEA, and seven by no union.
ACMEA and the 13 individual petitioners, all of whom received layoff notices, charged that those petitioners who were tenured members of the SEIU bargaining unit before being promoted were entitled under court policy to return to their old jobs by bumping less senior employees. The court responded that because they had been out of the SEIU unit for more than six months, the court’s agreement with that union precluded it from returning them to their old positions in lieu of laying them off, or from placing them on a wait list for reemployment in those positions.
Two of the petitioners were allowed, however, to demote to positions within neither bargaining unit.
After Mallano denied any relief, the petitioners alleged on appeal that the court violated its personnel policies by applying the SEIU seniority rules to ACMEA members; that nine of the individual petitioners were improperly denied the right to demote to their former SEIU-represented positions; that one employee was improperly denied a demotion to another position within the ACMEA unit; and that the layoffs were disciplinary in nature, so that the denial of requested individual hearings violated due process.
The Court of Appeal ruled for the petitioners on the first two issues, found that there was inadequate evidence in the record to rule on the third issue, and ruled for the court on the fourth.
Justice Harry Needham explained that under the act, the court must meet and confer with the union representing affected employees prior to implementing a change in personnel policies. “By curtailing the seniority and bumping rights of ACMEA members,” he wrote, the court’s agreement with SEIU changed personnel policies affecting ACMEA-represented employees, and so the failure to meet and confer with ACMEA prior to implementing the agreement with SEIU on that issue violated the act.
The justice emphasized that the panel was not questioning the general proposition that a union may renegotiate the seniority rights of its members. But that rule does not allow one union to negotiate a change in the seniority rights of a second union’s members, in the absence of negotiations between the employer and the second union, Needham said.
Furthermore, the justice said, even if the court’s personnel policies were construed as allowing it to negotiate the change with SEIU alone, the policy would be invalid as contrary to the statute.
“Applying the SEIU MOU’s definition of seniority to ACMEA members would violate both the statutory right of ACMEA members to be represented by their chosen union and the statutory right of ACMEA to represent its members in their relations with the Court,” Needham elaborated. “Moreover, since the Court has recognized ACMEA as the exclusive representative for employees in specified classifications, only ACMEA has the right to represent those employees on matters within the scope of representation “
Besides, he wrote, since the act specifies that labor agreements are “binding upon the parties,” it would be illegal to impose the terms of the SEIU agreement on employees who are not represented by that union and therefore not parties to that agreement.
The case is Alameda County Management Employees Association v. Superior Court, A128697.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company