Firefighters Procedural Bill Of Rights Act Applies To Charter Cities

In International Association of Firefighters Local Union 230 v. City of San Jose, (— Cal.Rptr.3d —-, Cal.App. 6 Dist., May 24, 2011), a court of appeal considered whether (1) the Firefighters Procedural Bill of Rights Act (“FFBOR”) applies to charter cities, and (2) whether the Public Employment Relations Boards had exclusive jurisdiction over the dispute between a city and a union about whether the city was required to meet and confer over the implementation of the FFBOR’s new procedures for administrative appeals of firefighter discipline. The court of appeal answered both questions in the affirmative.

Facts

The FFBOR became effective January 1, 2008, and contains several provisions concerning disciplinary proceedings for firefighters. The FFBOR provides, in part, that an employing agency may not take punitive action against a firefighter or deny a firefighter a promotion for reasons other than merit without providing the firefighter an opportunity for an administrative appeal. The administrative appeal must be conducted in accordance with the rules and procedures of the Administrative Procedures Act. The Administrative Procedures Act provides that all hearings of state agencies must “be conducted by administrative law judges on the staff of the Office of Administrative Hearings.”

The International Association of Firefighters, Local 230 (“Union”) represents firefighters who are employed by the City of San Jose (“City”). After the FFBOR became effective in 2008, Union asked “City to meet and confer over the implementation of the FFBOR’s new procedures for administrative appeals of firefighter discipline.” City refused to meet and confer with Union “on the ground that, as a charter city, it was not obligated to implement the FFBOR.” Union filed a petition for writ of mandate and to compel arbitration of its dispute with City regarding whether City was required to meet and confer for the implementation of the FFBOR. City opposed the motion on the ground that pursuant to “the home rule provisions of the California Constitution, article XI, section 5, it was not required to implement the FFBOR’s procedures for administrative appeals in firefighter disciplinary proceedings because the FFBOR’s procedures conflicted with the City’s existing procedures.”

The trial court denied Union’s petition on the ground that City’s refusal to meet and confer with Union on the issue of implementation of the FFBOR might constitute a violation of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (“MMBA”) and therefore exclusive jurisdiction over the dispute between City and Union lies with the Public Employment Relations Board (“PERB”). The Union appealed the trial court’s decision asserting that the trial court has jurisdiction in this matter. City filed a cross-appeal in which it asserted it “is not obligated to implement the FFBOR because it is a charter city.”

Decision

The court of appeals affirmed the decisions of the trial court. The court first held “the FFBOR is a procedural statute that does not violate the home rule provisions of the California Constitution and therefore the FFBOR applies to the City.” City claimed the FFBOR does not apply to it because it is a charter city and the home rule doctrine applies. The “home rule doctrine” is found in the California Constitution and “gives the chartered cities the power to ‘make and enforce all ordinances and regulations in respect to municipal affairs, subject only to [the] restrictions and limitations provided in their several charters.’”

An exception to the home rule doctrine involves general laws of statewide concern. General laws of statewide concern prevail “over local enactments of a chartered city, even in regard to matters which would otherwise be deemed to be strictly municipal affairs.” As a general rule, “labor relations with public employees, including firefighters, are a matter of statewide concern.” The court found that the administrative appeal provision of the FFBOR “was intended to provide ‘procedural safeguards’ with respect to administrative appeals of firefighter discipline” and does not deprive local governments of their right to manage and control their fire departments. The court concluded that the appeal provision of the FFBOR is applicable to City. Therefore, the court of appeal held the trial court did not error in denying City’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.

The court then analyzed Union’s claim the trial court erred when it denied its request to compel arbitration and found that PERB had exclusive jurisdiction over the issue of whether City was required to meet and confer regarding the implementation of the FFBOR. Union asserted the FFBOR applies to any California city that provides firefighter services. After City refused to meet and confer regarding the implementation of the FFBOR, Union asserted that City breached the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) between City and Union and that Union can seek a remedy for the breach of contract in civil courts pursuant to Labor Code section 1126, which states that remedies for breach of collective bargaining agreements may be pursued in state court. The court of appeal rejected Union’s argument that civil courts had concurrent jurisdiction with PERB in this matter.

The Legislature enacted the MMBA in 1968 to authorize “‘labor and management representatives not only to confer but to enter into written agreements for presentation to the governing body of a municipal government or other local agency.” The court noted, “It is well established that the MMBA applies to charter cities.” The PERB is a quasi-judicial administrative agency that is vested with authority to adjudicate unfair labor practices for certain categories of public employees. The Legislature extended PERB’s jurisdiction in 2000 to cover matters under the MMBA. A complaint that alleges an MMBA violation must be processed as an unfair practice charge by PERB. “The initial determination as to whether the charge of unfair practice is justified, and, if so, the appropriate remedy necessary to effectuate the purposes of this chapter, shall be a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of PERB.” After the changes were made by the Legislature, initial jurisdiction over unfair practice charges under the MMBA were vested with PERB, not the courts.

Union claimed its request to meet and confer with City over the implementation of the FFBOR was based on Article 44 of the MOU, “which provides that in the event any applicable state law imposes additional obligations on the City, ‘the parties shall meet and confer or negotiate on the Article or subsections thereof affected.’” Union asserted the MOA and City’s charter require it to submit the matter to arbitration.

The court found that the issue before it was “whether the City’s refusal to meet and confer constitutes an unfair labor practice under the MMBA that falls within PERB’s exclusive jurisdiction.” Union and City “do not dispute that the conditions of employment addressed by the FFBOR, including the procedures for a firefighter’s administrative appeal of a disciplinary matter, fall within the scope of representation.” City’s refusal to meet and confer regarding whether City was “obligated to implement a provision of the FFBOR arguably constitutes a violation of the employer’s duty to meet and confer in good faith and, consequently, may constitute a violation of section 3505 of the MMBA.” Because “PERB has exclusive initial jurisdiction over claims of unfair practices, which include violations of the MMBA,” the court determined “that PERB has initial jurisdiction in this case.” Therefore, the court of appeal found that the trial court properly denied Union’s petition to compel arbitration.

Union also argued that state civil courts have concurrent jurisdiction with PERB because Union “alleged a breach of contract claim that is subject to Labor Code section 1126, which authorizes enforcement of a collective bargaining agreement in the state courts.” The court rejected Union’s claim of concurrent jurisdiction. The court found that Union failed to exhaust its administrative remedies and that the administrative remedies available to Union were adequate. Due to its failure to exhaust administrative remedies, the court rejected Union’s claim that the state courts have concurrent jurisdiction with PERB in this matter.

Questions

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