In International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 188, AFL-CIO v. Public Employment Relations Board, 2011 WL 198103, the California Supreme Court considered whether a city’s decision to lay off 18 firefighters due to a budget crisis is a matter that is subject to collective bargaining. The Supreme Court held “that when a city, faced with a budget deficit, decides that some firefighters must be laid off as a cost-saving measure, the city is not required to meet and confer with the firefighters’ authorized employee representative before making that initial decision.”
Due to a budget crisis, in late 2003 the City of Richmond (“City”) decided to lay off 18 firefighters. The City sent layoff notices to the firefighters whose positions were being eliminated and met three times with the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 188, AFL-CIO, to discuss the effects the layoffs would have on the remaining firefighters. Local 188 tried to avert the layoffs by pointing out other cost-savings measures that would make the layoffs unnecessary but the City decided to proceed with the layoffs.
Local 188 filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board (“PERB”) in which it alleged that City had violated the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (“MMBA”) when City failed to confer with Local 188 over the decision to lay off firefighters. A PERB regional attorney declined to issue a complaint on behalf of Local 188. A panel of three PERB board members affirmed that decision on the ground that City’s decision to lay off some of its employees was not subject to collective bargaining. A superior court denied Local 188’s petition for writ of mandate. A court of appeal affirmed the superior court’s decision.
The Supreme Court first held that PERB’s refusal to issue a complaint was subject to judicial review. A refusal by PERB to issue a complaint pursuant to the MMBA is ordinarily not subject to judicial review. There are, however, three exceptions to this rule. If “PERB refuses to issue a complaint under the MMBA, a superior court may exercise mandamus jurisdiction to determine whether PERB’s decision  violates a constitutional right,  exceeds a specific grant of authority, or  is based on an erroneous statutory construction.” The Supreme Court held that an exception applied here because Local 188 alleged that PERB’s refusal to issue a complaint was “based on a clearly erroneous statutory construction.”
The Supreme Court, however, found that the superior court properly denied Local 188’s petition for writ of mandate. The Supreme Court previously held in Fire Fighters Union v. City of Vallejo, (1974) 12 Cal.3d 608, that pursuant to the MMBA, “a local entity may unilaterally decide that financial necessity requires some employee layoffs, although the entity must bargain over the implementation of that decision and its effects on the remaining employees.” Since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Vallejo, California courts have continued to conclude that a state agency may unilaterally decide to make reductions in its staff provided that the agency affords an opportunity for bargaining over the implementation of its decision to reduce the staff. The Supreme Court reaffirmed this rule in the case in controversy.
The Supreme Court held that pursuant to the MMBA, “a local public entity that is faced with a decline in revenues or other financial adversity may unilaterally decide to lay off some of its employees to reduce its labor costs.” However, the public employer must provide “its employees an opportunity to bargain over the implementation of the decision, including the number of employees to be laid off, and the timing of the layoffs, as well as the effects of the layoffs on the workload and safety of the remaining employees.” The Court concluded that Local 188 failed to show “that PERB’s refusal to issue a complaint was based on a misunderstanding of this rule, and thus it has not shown that it was based on an erroneous construction of the MMBA.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeal.
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