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Placer County Deputies Settle Unfair Labor Practice Charge

Posted on Tuesday, November 01, 2011 at 12:00PM
Posted by KATHLEEN N. MASTAGNI STORM, ESQ.

After grueling and contentious negotiations, on December 9, 2010, the Placer County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (PCDSA) and the County of Placer settled an unfair labor practice charge arising from the County’s failure to meet and confer in good faith during negotiations for a successor memorandum of understanding (MOU).

Mastagni law firm Negotiator David Topaz and the PCDSA negotiating team began negotiations for a successor MOU in November 2006. The parties met for approximately two years before calling a break and cooling-off period. In March 2009, the parties resumed negotiations. Though the County agreed to return to negotiations, from the onset it did not endeavor to reach an agreement. Beginning in April 2009, the County began engaging in bad faith, surface bargaining in violation of Government Code Section 3505.

Meeting and conferring in good faith is a subjective attitude requiring a genuine desire to reach an agreement and requiring that the parties make serious attempts to resolve differences and reach common ground (Government Code Section 3505). Bad faith bargaining is demonstrated through a predetermined resolve not to budge from an initial position. Placentia Fire Fighters, Local 2147 v. City of Placentia (1976) 57 Cal.App.3d 9. A per se violation of the duty to bargain in good faith may be found without determining whether a party lacked a subjective intent to reach an agreement when the party’s bargaining conduct has the potential to frustrate negotiations and undermine the exclusivity of the bargaining agent. An employer setting mandatory deadlines for concluding negotiations is also evidence of bad faith.

Ignoring its statutory obligations, the County engaged in evasive and dilatory conduct in an attempt to drive the parties to impasse and, ultimately, unilateral implementation. The County declared it would only meet 10 times and set an arbitrary deadline for the conclusion of the negotiations. The County then engaged in a series of stall tactics, such as refusing to timely schedule meetings, failing to make substantive offers and counteroffers, arbitrarily valuing and devaluing economic offers and refusing to go to mediation. Ultimately, on September 22, 2009, the County unilaterally imposed terms and conditions of employment on the PCDSA.

Throughout negotiations, Topaz and the PCDSA negotiating team objected to the County’s conduct to no avail. In October 2009, I filed a charge with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) alleging the County engaged in unfair labor practices, including failing to meet and confer in good faith and denying the PCDSA its right to represent its members in employer-employee relations. Though PERB does not have jurisdiction over allegations of unfair labor practices for bargaining units composed solely of PC 830.1 peace officers, PERB accepted jurisdiction because the PCDSA is a mixed unit, representing welfare fraud investigators and 830.1 peace officers.

Confident PERB would find no wrongdoing, the County and its counsel denied any wrongdoing and rebuffed any settlement discussions. Then, almost one year after the initial filing, PERB issued a complaint, finding evidence that during the period alleged, March 2009 to September 2009, the County engaged in multiple unfair labor practices. PERB determined the County violated its bargaining obligations by only agreeing to meet 10 times, setting an arbitrary date for concluding negotiations and refusing to clarify its position by failing to provide any explanation or justification for its concession goal. Quickly thereafter, the County contacted the PCDSA, seeking ways to resolve the matter. The County assumed that because the parties had reached an agreement on an MOU, the PCDSA would just drop its charge.

In December 2010, the parties met at PERB for an informal settlement conference and were able to reach a settlement agreement. While the County of Placer and its attorneys refused to admit any wrongdoing, they did acknowledge that the County had an obligation to meet and confer in good faith.

According to the settlement, PCDSA members active as of December 14, 2010, were to receive two $300 payments. The first was awarded in late December 2010, and the second payment was received in July 2011. The award was capped because the parties reached agreement on an MOU between filing the charge and settling the matter. The settlement also acted as a notice, reaffirming both parties’ bargaining rights and obligations. Significantly, the posting declared that the County cannot set arbitrary deadlines and must clarify its position at the table. In exchange for the settlement and notice posting, the PCDSA agreed to withdraw the unfair labor practice charge.

PCDSA President Andrew Scott, the PCDSA negotiating team and Topaz worked hard to vindicate their members’ rights and get the best possible contract in trying economic times. The bargaining team’s note taker, Laurie Bettencourt, kept excellent records of each meeting, significantly aiding our success at PERB. In a message to the membership, Scott stated, “Thank you for all your support during the negotiations process. While it was a difficult journey, we believe we secured a sound and fair contract for our members. We are also very pleased that the County has affirmed [its] need to negotiate in good faith and was willing to compensate our membership for the actions that occurred in negotiations.”

The PCDSA and the County are in contract until June 30, 2012. When negotiations start for a successor MOU, the PCDSA expects a level playing field, and if not, back to PERB!

About the Author

Kathleen N. Mastagni Storm is an Associate Attorney with Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller and Johnsen. Mastagni Storm represents the PCDSA in all labor and disciplinary matters.

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