Employer’s Bargaining Obligation When it “Reorganizes," and a Union’s Entitlement to Payment of Attorneys’ Fees

A California court of appeal upheld an injunction and order granting attorneys’ fees for a Union representing sworn police officers against the City of Indio. 

The City prompted the suit when it announced its plan to reorganize the command structure of the police department, with demotions, bumping, and layoffs among the effects.  Despite a clause in the Union’s MOU requiring the City to “meet” to “discuss alternatives” prior  to layoffs, after two meetings the city manager told the Union it had no right to submit a response to the plan.  The Union then sued in superior court to enforce the MMBA’s “meet and confer” requirement (Government Code section 1085, writ of mandate) and sought an injunction against the City.  The Union also asked for attorneys’ fees in the litigation.  (Government Code section 1021.5.)

The superior court granted the Union’s request for injunction, ordering the City not to institute the planned reorganization until it demonstrated it had met the MMBA’s meet and confer requirement.  The court also granted the Union attorneys’ fees to compensate for the expense it had incurred in filing its petition for injunctive relief.

The City appealed the decisions of the superior court.  The Appellate Court upheld both the grant of injunction and the award of attorneys’ fees.  Specifically, the Appellate Court was persuaded by the superior court’s conclusion that “the Department’s reorganization plan was subject to the MMBA’s meet and confer requirement” because “a major purpose and effect of the plan was to save labor costs by transferring job duties out of a recognized bargaining unit and, as such, would have a significant and adverse effect on wages, hours, or other working conditions.” 

The Appellate Court also agreed with awarding attorneys’ fees to the Union because “litigation enforcing police officers’ procedural and labor rights enforces important statutory rights” and the trial court could reasonably conclude that the benefits of the case to nonlitigants (such as other Unions in the City) and the public outweighed the financial burden to the City of paying the fees the Union had been forced to incur to correct the City’s misconduct.

Note, since the Union involved represented sworn officers, it enforced its MMBA rights by a writ of mandate in superior court rather than with the Public Employment Relations Board (“PERB”). 

For more information about this case or a public employer’s obligation to meet and confer over reorganization, please contact your labor law counsel.

By Rob Szykowny | October 29, 2014

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