In County of Sacramento v. AFSCME Local 146, (— Cal.Rptr.3d —, 2008 WL 2878359, Cal.App. 3 Dist., July 28, 2008), a California Court of Appeal considered whether a county could file a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent essential county employees from striking.
The court ruled that under the terms of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (“MMBA”), the Public Employment Relations Board (“PERB”) has exclusive jurisdiction over claims arising under the MMBA. The court further found the matter did arise under the MMBA and PERB did have exclusive jurisdiction over it. Therefore, the county could not bypass PERB and use the courts to try to prevent its employees from striking.
In 2006, the County of Sacramento (“County”) failed to reach collective bargaining agreements with several of its public employee unions, those unions informed the County they would initiate strikes.
The County filed suit in superior court seeking to enjoin the unions from “participating in or ordering, directing, requesting, exhorting, instructing, coercing, encouraging or in any other way inducing or attempting to induce” certain essential County employees from participating in the strike. PERB intervened in the suit, opposing the county’s request and claiming exclusive jurisdiction over the strike. The superior court sided with the County and issued injunctions against the unions and its members. PERB and the unions appealed.
The court reviewed the history of legislation and relevant case law pertaining to the MMBA, and found that in 2001, the Legislature amended Government Code Section 3509 to bring claims under the MMBA within the exclusive jurisdiction of PERB. “A complaint alleging any violation of this chapter … shall 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].”
The question remained as to whether this specific action fell within the identified jurisdiction. The court cited El Rancho Unified School District v. National Education Assn., (1983) 33 Cal.3rd 946, in which the California Supreme Court ruled that a labor action under the Educational Employment Relations Act fell exclusively to PERB’s jurisdiction if it was “arguably protected or arguably prohibited.” In other words, the court said, the issue here “is not whether the conduct in fact violates the act in question but whether it arguably does so.”
The threatened strike by essential County employees was “arguably an attempt to put pressure on the employer rather than bargain in good faith, i.e., arguably prohibited.” Therefore, it fell within the scope of the MMBA, and under the exclusive jurisdiction of PERB, pursuant to the terms of the 2001 amendment.
The court also rejected the county’s contention that PERB’s jurisdiction did not apply if the actions posed immediate threats to public health and safety. Here, the County had ample notice of the strike and ample time to seek PERB’s assistance. The court added, had the Legislature intended to carve out exceptions to PERB’s jurisdiction for essential employees, it could have done so, but it did not.
The trial court therefore had no jurisdiction to grant the County’s request for injunctive relief. The judgment was reversed and remanded to the trial court with directions to dismiss the County’s actions for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.