• Memorandum of Understanding with One Labor Organization Cannot Govern Employer’s handling Of Employees in another Labor Organization
  • April 27, 2011 | Authors: Laura A. Izon; Bruce A. Scheidt; David W. Tyra
  • Law Firm: Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard A Law Corporation - Sacramento Office
  • In Alameda County Management Employees Association v. Superior Court of Alameda County, (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 1 Dist., March 7, 2011), a court of appeal considered whether the Superior Court of Alameda County violated statutory law when it failed to meet and confer with the labor organization representing managerial employees before changing their seniority and demotion rights. The court of appeal held that the Superior Court violated statutory law and its own policies and rules by changing the seniority and demotion rights of the managerial employees based on the Superior Court’s memorandum of understanding with a labor organization representing other court employees.

    The Alameda County Management Employees Association (“ACMEA”) is a labor organization that represents certain managerial, supervisory, and administrative employees of the Superior Court of Alameda County (“Superior Court”). The Superior Court promulgated personnel policies in 2001 after meeting and conferring with the ACMEA and other labor organizations that represent court employees. The Superior Court amended the policies in 2003, 2006, and 2008. The personnel policies provide that they apply to represented and unrepresented employees and where there is a conflict with a MOU, the MOU will govern employees covered by that MOU. The personnel policies contain a layoff policy that became effective in May 2003, which has not been amended since that time. The layoff policy provides that, if there is a layoff, an employee who is in a classification affected by the reduction in force may “[e]lect to demote to a lower paying class if the employee previously held tenure in the lower paying class.” The Superior Court and the ACME negotiated an MOU effective from January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2011.

    The Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 (“SEIU”), represents Superior Court employees who hold jobs in the following classifications: courtroom clerk, administrative services clerk, legal processing assistant, fiscal assistant, and trial court financial hearing officers. The MOU between the Superior Court and the SEIU was to be in effect between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2011. The SEIU MOU was entered into without any notice to the ACMEA and the ACMEA did not have the opportunity to meet and confer over the terms of the MOU between the Superior Court and the SEIU. The SEIU MOU contains the following language that was not contained in any previous MOU: “Seniority Defined: Except for layoff and recall which utilize classification seniority, seniority shall be measured by hours worked (paid status) using the total service for the Court . . . if the employee has worked in a classification assigned to the Court prior to January 1, 2001.” The MOU further provides, “Seniority shall be terminated by . . . [f]ailure beyond six (6) months to return from a non bargaining unit position.”

    Due to a significant reduction in budget, the Superior Court implemented a reduction in force. The Superior Court laid off 72 employees including 28 from the ACMEA bargaining unit, 37 from the SEIU bargaining unit, and seven unrepresented employees. Pursuant to the personnel policies, numerous employees who are members of the ACMEA bargaining unit would have been entitled “to transfers or demotions to classifications in which they had previously held tenure in the SEIU bargaining unit, to the extent that those positions are currently filled by less senior employees.” The employees notified the Superior Court that they wanted to demote or transfer to classifications within the SEIU bargaining unit because they had previously held tenure in those classifications. The Superior Court refused the requests of nine employees “on the grounds that they had been out of the SEIU bargaining unit for more than six months, and instead laid them off.” The Superior Court allowed two ACMEA employees to elect to demote instead of being subject to the layoff. Eleven ACMEA employees requested due process hearings.

    The ACMEA filed a petition for writ of mandate asserting that the Superior Court had violated the Trial Court Employment Protection Governance Act “by failing to meet and confer with ACMEA before changing the seniority and demotion rights of its members.” The trial court denied the petition.

    The court of appeal held that the Superior Court violated California law when it changed the employees’ “seniority and bumping rights without first meeting and conferring in good faith with ACMEA.” The court, however, found that the Superior Court did not deny the laid-off employees due process.

    The Trial Court Employment Protection and Governance Act (“Act”) “guarantees trial court employees ‘the right to form, join, and participate in the activities of employee organizations of their own choosing for the purpose of representation on all matters of employer-employee relations.’” Recognized employee organizations have the power “to represent their members in employment relations with trial courts as to the matters covered by the Act.” The scope of representation under the Act “includes ‘all matters relating to employment conditions and employer-employee relations, including, but not limited to, wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.’” Trial courts must “meet and confer in good faith with representatives of recognized employee organizations regarding matters within the scope of representation.” Trial courts must “consider fully the presentations as are made by the recognized employee organization on behalf of its members prior to arriving at a determination of policy or course of action.” If the employee organization and trial court reach an agreement, they must prepare a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”). The MOU becomes binding on the parties if the trial court adopts the MOU.

    The Act allows pre-existing terms and conditions of employment to be eliminated or modified only after the parties have met and conferred in good faith. When a trial court establishes local personnel structures for its employees it must “give consideration to ‘protecting the rights accrued by trial court employees under their current systems,’ but the Act permits reconsideration of prior contractual obligations and rights, again subject to the obligation to meet and confer in good faith.”

    It was undisputed that the Superior Court’s personnel policy would have allowed nine of the employees at issue to demote to classifications in the SEIU bargaining unit in which they had previously held tenure. It was also undisputed “that the only reason the nine were laid off rather than being permitted to demote was the disputed effect of the SEIU MOU.” The nine employees had been out of the SEIU bargaining unit for more than six months. The Superior Court applied the definition of seniority in the SEIU MOU and determined that the nine ACMEA employees could not exercise their bumping rights. ACMEA argued the Superior Court’s action in applying the SEIU MOU’s definition of seniority violated the Act. The court of appeal agreed.

    The Personnel Policies of the Superior Court, which were adopted prior to the implementation of the Act, “were the product of a meet and confer process involving ACMEA and other labor organizations representing Court employees.” Therefore, the personnel policies “constitute ‘personnel rules, policies, and practices . . . in effect at the time of the implementation date’ of the Act.” These policies affect matters within the scope of representation because the personnel policies confer seniority and bumping rights on ACMEA members. The court found, “but for the SEIU MOU, the personnel policies would have entitled nine [ACMEA employees] to demote to SEIU classifications in which they held tenure.” The court found the SEIU MOU purported to change a “rule, policy, or practice that affects [a] matter within the scope of representation.” The court concluded, “As a consequence, before changing that policy the [Superior] Court was required to meet and confer in good faith with the recognized employee organizations” including the ACMEA before making the change to the policy.

    The court of appeal held that the Superior Court “was required to meet and confer in good faith with ACMEA before depriving ACMEA’s members of seniority and bumping rights derived from the personnel policies.” The Superior Court attempted to change the seniority rights of the members of the ACMEA through its negotiations with the SEIU. The court of appeal held that the Superior Court may not “alter the seniority rights of employees who are members of ACMEA by meeting and conferring only with SEIU.” Nothing in the Act “would make an MOU binding upon employees holding positions in classifications not covered by the MOU.”

    Eleven ACMEA employees claimed they were denied due process because the Superior Court did not provide them due process hearings in front of hearing officers after the employees claimed that they had reason to believe the layoffs were disciplinary in character. The court of appeal rejected the employees’ argument finding that it was clear that the layoffs were the result of budgetary constraints and not for disciplinary reasons.