In Indio Police Command Unit Association, et al., v. City of Indio, et al. (— Cal.Rptr.3d —, Cal.App. 4th Dist. September 15, 2014) a California Court of Appeal confirmed the applicability of Meyers-Milias-Brown Act ("MMBA") (Gov. Code § 3500.5 et seq.) in the context of a police department management reorganization.
The City and the Indio Police Command Unit Association ("PCU"), the union representing the Department’s sworn command staff, disagreed over whether or not the MMBA meet and confer in good faith requirements applied to a planned reorganization of Department management that would result in layoffs, the elimination of several command positions and the creation of new management positions. Entering an injunction against the reorganization plan, the trial court held that the MMBA did apply and that, despite some discussion between the City and the Union prior to implementation, the meet and confer requirements under the MMBA remained unsatisfied. The Court of Appeal affirmed.
The PCU is the employee organization representing the Department’s sworn command staff in the positions of sergeant, lieutenant and captain. As part of the comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") between the PCU and the City, the City retained the right to institute layoffs, but prior to doing so had an obligation “…to meet with the PCU to discuss alternatives.”
In March 2012, the City’s new Chief of Police wrote to the PCU stating that he intended to implement a “strategic reorganization” of Departmental command structure which would result in (1) the elimination of the captain and four lieutenant positions; (2) create two new division commanders (sworn positions); and (3) create one new administrative services manager (unsworn position). The Chief also wrote that the plan would become effective July 1, 2012, and pursuant to Section 7.2 of the MOU, requested an opportunity to meet with the PCU to discuss the matter. The PCU responded asking if the Department was attempting to begin the MMBA meet and confer process. The City replied that it was only going to meet and confer with respect to the impact of the reorganization, which was not yet final, and not whether the reorganization was going to take place.
On April 3, 2012, the PCU President was advised by the City’s Human Resources Manager of the final reorganization plan. On April 19, 2012, the City provided the affected employees with written notification of the changes to their employment under the plan.
In May 2012, the PCU brought an action against the City in superior court seeking issuance of a writ of mandate and injunctive relief preventing the implementation of the reorganization plan. The PCU argued that the plan was not motivated by the City’s dire financial condition, but was a pretext to eviscerate the bargaining unit for command staff and that the City had failed to meet and confer with the PCU as required under the MMBA. The trial court ruled that the MMBA meet and confer requirements applied and that the City failed to satisfy its meet and confer obligations.
The City appealed.
The City’s appeal raised two essential questions. First, did the MMBA’s meet and confer requirements apply to a reorganization at the managerial level? Second, if so, had the City fulfilled its meet and confer obligations?
Addressing the application of the MMBA, the court took note of its scope and purpose. Under the Act, a public agency is required to notify and offer to meet and confer with the recognized employee organization affected by an ordinance, rule, resolution or regulation directly relating to the scope of representation which encompasses conditions of employment and employer-employee relations. (Gov. Code § 3504; 3504.5, subd. (a).) In order to trigger application of the MMBA, the employer action must have a significant effect on the terms and conditions of employment of the members of the bargaining unit. This includes the transfer of work away from the bargaining unit to a non-bargaining unit. In this case, the City contended that the reorganization plan only impacted managerial police decisions over which the public employer retains its discretion as to unilateral action. Applying a balancing test, the court weighed the City’s needs against the fact that the reorganization plan had a purpose and effect to save labor costs by transferring job duties out of the PCU which in turn had a significant adverse effect on wages, hours and other working conditions. The plan would eliminate five represented upper command positions, result in the demotion of some of those officers to sergeant with wage losses, would cause at least one layoff and would demote at least one sergeant to corporal with a wage loss, thus, transferring an employee out of the PCU. In light of the significant impact, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that on balance, the MMBA applied.
The court then stated that the good faith meet and confer obligation under the MMBA, was a duty to bargain and not implement unilateral changes in wages or working conditions until the employer and employee have bargained until impasse. In this case, the Court of Appeal found that substantial evidence supported the decision of the trial court that the City had not satisfied its meet and confer obligations. While the Chief of Police did write to the PCU requesting a meeting to discuss the reorganization plan, upon further inquiry by the PCU, the City clearly stated that it was not going to meet and confer about whether the plan would go into effect, only on how the officers would be effected. Further, the City Manager informed the PCU that the reorganization was going to take place and that the PCU had no right to offer any sort of response. Holding that the good faith meet and confer standard was inconsistent with a predetermined decision not to alter an initial position, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision that the City had not satisfied its obligations under the MMBA.