The California Public Employment Relations board has determined that the city of Clovis did not bargain in bad faith by pulling a pay raise offer before it was accepted by the public works employees union.
The board’s decision overturned an administrative law judge’s opinion in 2008 that had found Clovis guilty of bad-faith bargaining and ordered the city to pay the raises.
It marked the first time the board found that employment laws applying to universities and school districts also apply to cities and counties, said Tim Yeung, a Sacramento lawyer who writes a blog that tracks the board’s major decisions.
The case also was rare, Yeung said, because the board overturned a judge’s ruling. The board upholds more than 90% of appealed decisions, he said.
The board’s 3-0 decision became final last month.
At issue was the final year of a three-year contract. The contract, signed in 2005, gave union members 3.5% raises each of the first two years and allowed the union to reopen salary negotiations for the third year.
As negotiations got under way in 2007, the city did not budge significantly from the 3% it offered the union for the final contract year. Union members sought a 4% raise, employment board documents show. The two sides could not agree, and the union filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the state.
By February 2008, four months after the city announced it would end negotiations, it was clear the economy was worsening and the city needed to trim its budget.
The union’s business agent, Doug Gorman, left a voicemail message for city personnel director Jeff Cardell, saying the union would take the city’s 3% “final offer” and dismiss the unfair labor practice charge. Cardell responded that negotiations were over.
At the time, Gorman said he thought the city’s end to negotiations had left the 3% raise as its final offer.
Because of budget cuts, all city employees in Clovis have taken pay cuts exceeding 4% each of the last two years. The city also laid off workers for the first time in more than 15 years.
In 2008, the administrative law judge ruled the city had to give 3% raises to employees represented by the union, a cost of about $660,000 to the city.
But the city contended that Gorman’s voice mail was a settlement offer, not an acceptance of the city’s last offer, and appealed the ruling to the state board.
In a written decision, employment board member Robin Wesley said the voicemail message did not create a final agreement between the city and union.
That’s not the view of Jolsna John, a lawyer for the Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3 based in Alameda. The union did not appeal the ruling.
“I think it’s just contrary to the case law,” she said. “I think there was sufficient evidence that we had accepted their offer. It’s very disappointing.”
Yeung said he believes the board’s decision was correct because the city had a right to decide whether to put an agreement in place once an impasse was declared.