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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The interpretation of a “management right’s clause” in a collective bargaining agreement is for the arbitrator rather than PERB to resolve

The interpretation of a “management right’s clause” in a collective bargaining agreement is for the arbitrator rather than PERB to resolve
Roma v Ruffo, Court of Appeals, 92 NY2d 489

The collective bargaining agreement between the Susquehanna Valley Central School District and CSEA Local 1000 provided that school matrons would normally work an eight-hour day/40-hour work week and that the district would negotiate any changes in the matron’s working conditions with Local 1000.

The agreement also included a “management rights” clause reserving to the district the right to “transfer and abolish positions” and a “non-binding arbitration” provision. The “final grievance decision” was vested in the school board.

Without negotiating the change with Local 1000, the district told the matrons that their work schedule would be changed to a six-hour day/30-hour workweek “due to budgetary considerations.” The union filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement contending that this unilateral change in the work schedule constituted a violation of the contract.

When the school board, the final step in the grievance procedure, denied the grievance after finding that the agreement had not been violated, Local 1000 sued. A state Supreme Court justice decided that the school board’s determination was arbitrary in view of the specific contract provision at issue. It directed the district to reinstate the matron’s former work schedule.

The district appealed, arguing that the lower court’s order was unenforceable because “PERB had exclusive jurisdiction” over the controversy. In other words, the district argued that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to decide the matter. The Appellate Division agreed, vacating the lower court’s decision.

But on further appeal, the Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court, found the issue involved an allegation that the terms of the contract were violated, not that the district may have committed and improper practice by refusing to negotiate. The court held that if a term and condition of employment specifically covered by the collective bargaining agreement is alleged to have been violated, the issue may be resolved through the agreement’s grievance procedure.

The decision notes that because the matrons’ work hours were covered by a provision in the contract, “neither party had a statutory duty to negotiate changes in those hours.” Thus, said the court, “it necessarily follows that the school district’s unilateral change cannot constitute the improper practice of failure to bargain in good faith.” The court characterized the district’s action as a breach of the contract, remediable through the contractual grievance procedure agreed upon by the parties.

If, however, the contract’s work hours provision was subject to a so-called “contract re-opener” clause, in which the parties identify in the contract a specific issue to be reconsidered at a later date, any change would be subject to collective bargaining. If a party then failed to bargain in good faith, PERB would have exclusive jurisdiction to resolve that issue.

In Susquehanna Valley situation, however, the court ruled that PERB does not have “exclusive jurisdiction” for two reasons:

1. CSEA did not allege anything that was within PERB’s jurisdiction under Section 209-a[1][d] of the Civil Service Law. This subdivision provides that an employer’s alleged failure to bargain in good faith constitutes an “improper employer practice” as Local 1000 simply complained that the district had violated specific terms and conditions of employment set out in the agreement.

2. Section 205(5)(d) places limits PERB’s authority and PERB does not have jurisdiction with respect to (a) enforcing the terms of an agreement between the parties, nor (b) considering alleged violations of a Taylor Law agreement.

Reinstating the ruling by the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals held that the district had violated the “unambiguous” terms of the Taylor Law agreement between the parties. It directed the district to restore their full-time working hours, salary and benefits “unless/until the conditions of said employment are altered in accordance with the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.”

As to the “management right’s clause” aspect of the controversy, the Court of Appeals observed that “the scope of the management prerogative clauses was ... ‘a contractual issue beyond PERB’s jurisdiction’” as well. Presumably, this provision could be advanced by the district in support of claim that its unilateral change in the matron’s work schedule did not violate the contract.

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