Court of Appeal holds Scope of MMBA Factfinding Extends to Single-issue Dispute

The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (“MMBA”) was amended in 2012 to permit the Public Employment Relations Board (“PERB”) to order factfinding once a public employer and Union reach an impasse in bargaining.  The MMBA governs labor-management relations at local government agencies, including cities and counties.  Factfinding is a process in which a panel, including a chairperson appointed by PERB, makes findings of fact and recommendations for settlement. A number of public employers have taken the position that factfinding only applies when it reaches impasse with a Union concerning a comprehensive memorandum of understanding (“MOU”).  However, PERB has granted factfinding requests in “single-issue” disputes.  “Single-issue” disputes arise, often during the term of a contract, when an employer proposes to change a single term and condition of employees’ employment.

In San Diego Housing Commission v. PERB, the Commission reached impasse in its negotiations with a Union over the effects of the Commission’s decision to layoff two bargaining unit members.  In County of Riverside v. PERB, the County attempted to unilaterally implement new background checks for IT workers.  The Union in both cases requested factfinding, and PERB granted the requests.  Both employers sued PERB to prevent factfinding.  The Superior Court in both cases found that factfinding was not permitted for single-issue disputes.  PERB appealed both decisions.

The Court of Appeal overturned the Superior Court decisions in both cases.  The Court found that there is nothing in the MMBA which prohibits factfinding in single-issue disputes. The Court added that it could not “fathom why the need for an orderly method of resolving disputes would be less acute during the negotiations of supplemental matters than during the negotiation of comprehensive MOUs. The negotiation of supplemental maters is not necessarily less complex nor is the outcome necessarily less important than the negotiation of comprehensive MOUs.”

These are important decisions for Unions and the public.  During factfinding, a local government agency is required to produce evidence to support its bargaining position.  The factfinding panel is empowered to issue findings and recommendations, which the public agency must make available to the public.  Factfinding therefore protects the interests of the public by holding local government agencies accountable for their decisions.

For questions regarding factfinding or other issues affecting public sector employees, please contact your labor law counsel.

By Jake White | April 20, 2016

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