PERB Finds Injunctive Relief is Proper to Stop a School District from Interfering with Organizing Activity

The California Public Employees Relations Board (“PERB”) recently decided that injunctive relief was proper to stop a school district both from interfering in an organizing campaign by an employee organization and giving preferential treatment to a rival employee organization in Clovis Unified School District, PERB Dec. No. 1063-E, SA-CE-3040-E and SA-CE-3047-E. An employer must remain neutral when two employee organizations are competing to represent the same employees.

The Clovis Unified School District (“District”) had a Faculty Senate (“Senate”), a nonexclusive body made up of school site representatives elected by the teachers. Senators received a stipend from the District. The District and the Senate did not have a collective bargaining agreement, and the Senate did not collect dues from the teachers, but it participated in District committees and meetings. The District provided the Senate’s entire operating budget. The District held itself out as a nonunion District. Newly-hired teachers received a document from the District that stated that the District was “proud that we do not have collective bargaining.”

In July 2020, an employee organization, the Association of Clovis Educators, CTA/NEA (“ACE”), began organizing teachers in the District. In April 2021, over 70 teachers sent a letter to the District formally announcing the creation of ACE. ACE later notified the District that it intended to file a petition for recognition with PERB. In May 2021, the District announced that it would pay a $4,000.00 one-time payment to all employees and recommended a 5.5 percent salary increase and an increase in contributions to the District’s health benefits fund. The District credited these recommendations, in part, to the Senate. ACE alleged that the District intended for these increases to cast doubt on ACE’s legitimacy.

In June 2021, ACE filed an unfair practice charge with PERB. In the following months, representatives from ACE met with the District to discuss its concerns, including a request to give presentations at new employee orientation meetings, as well as unequal support that the District provided to the Senate. The District did not address ACE’s concerns, and ACE consequently sought injunctive relief.

PERB granted ACE’s request to seek an injunction in court, finding reasonable cause to believe that the District’s actions violated the Educational Employment Relations Act (“EERA”) and the Prohibition of Public Employers Deterring or Discouraging Union Membership (“PEDD”) on the grounds that the District: 1) violated the EERA by dominating or interfering with the formation of ACE, financially supporting the Senate, and breaching its duty to maintain strict neutrality in the face of competing employee organizations; and 2) violated the PEDD by discouraging or deterring employees from organizing. Injunctive relief is appropriate to prevent “irreparable harm”—when the unfair labor practices would make a final decision down the road meaningless, or so devoid of force that the remedial purposes of EERA would be frustrated, without interim temporary relief. PERB concluded that injunctive relief was just and proper in this case, because the District’s unfair practices would have the foreseeable effect of causing employee support to vanish before PERB’s full procedures for hearing and decision are complete.

This decision serves as a strong reminder that PERB will not tolerate efforts by public employers to interfere with or undermine union organizing efforts.

By Craig Schechter | March 14, 2022

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