Decision 2414M – County of Tulare * * * VACATED IN PART by County of Tulare (2016) PERB Decision No. 2414a-M

SA-CE-748-M

Decision Date: February 26, 2015

Decision Type: PERB Decision

 * * * VACATED IN PART by County of Tulare (2016) PERB Decision No. 2414a-M * * *

Description:  Subject to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the parties had agreed to a provision that would freeze merit and step increases during the term of that agreement, and upon its expiration, employees would be restored to the suspended salary and promotion schedule.  In negotiations for a successor agreement, the parties were unable to agree on whether to continue the freeze on pay increases and promotions.  After reaching impasse the County imposed its proposal to continue the freeze on merit and step increases.  The ALJ concluded that because negotiations for a successor agreement had resulted in a bona fide impasse, the County was free to impose a continuation of the freeze.

Disposition:  The Board reversed the proposed decision and determined that the parties’ agreement contained an enforceable promise to restore employees to the previous salary and promotion schedule, even if this obligation did not mature until other terms of the MOU had expired.  The Board rejected the County’s defense that it was privileged to impose terms and conditions unilaterally after negotiations for a successor agreement had resulted in impasse.  The Board explained that, even after bargaining to impasse as to future wages and benefits, the County could not impose retroactive terms that extinguished its outstanding contractual obligations for wages and benefits under the previous agreement.

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Perc Vol: 39
Perc Index: 111

Decision Headnotes

102.00000 – PERB: OPERATION, JURISDICTION, AUTHORITY; SCOPE OF PERB JURISDICTION
102.03000 – Enforcement of Settlement Agreements and Contracts 3541.5(b); 3514.5(b); 3563.2(b)

Although PERB is without jurisdiction to enforce collective bargaining agreements, it may interpret contractual provisions when necessary to decide an unfair practice case. Because unilateral change allegation turned on the parties’ respective rights under their agreement, PERB examined the language of the agreement.

602.00000 – EMPLOYER REFUSAL TO BARGAIN IN GOOD FAITH; UNILATERAL CHANGE (FOR NEGOT OF SPECIFIC SUBJECTS, SEE SEC 1000, SCOPE OF REPRESENTATION)
602.03000 – Change In Policy

Where there is no ambiguity in the operative language of an agreement, as understood in its ordinary and plain sense, there is no basis for resorting to extrinsic evidence of the parties’ bargaining history to determine their intent. The ALJ erred by relying on evidence of the parties’ subsequent bargaining history rather than clear and unambiguous language indicating what the parties had intended when they had entered into the agreement two years earlier. In every contract dispute, the analysis must begin with the parties’ intent, as demonstrated by the ordinary and plain meaning of the language of their agreement. Every term should be given effect and, wherever possible, PERB should avoid an interpretation that disregards a contractual provision as surplus language. The Board reversed the proposed decision where the ALJ ignored contract language indicating that employees “will be placed” in certain pre-determined pay ranges and job titles as an unambiguous expression of the parties’ intent when they entered into their agreement. When referring to future events, the ordinary and plain meaning of the verb “will” is the same as “shall,” which is to impose a duty or requirement. This usage is the mandatory sense that drafters typically intend and that courts typically uphold as an enforceable obligation. Where the parties agreed that employees “will be placed” in certain pay ranges and job titles upon expiration of their agreement, it was unnecessary to consider their conduct in successor negotiations to determine their intent. Once negotiated, parties should have a reasonable expectation that their collective agreements will be enforced. Contractual rights may survive the agreement that gave rise to them, if the parties so intended. Because the duty to bargain applies to current and future wages, hours and working conditions, an employer may not unilaterally impose reductions in employee wages or benefits for services already performed, even after bargaining in good faith to impasse.

900.00000 – IMPASSE PROCEDURES; IN GENERAL; DUTY TO PARTICIPATE IN GOOD FAITH
900.01000 – In General

While employers are privileged to impose terms and conditions of employment on a prospective basis, they cannot do so retroactively. An employer is not privileged to insist to impasse on a proposal to renegotiate terms settled by a previous agreement, nor to impose terms that take back wages or benefits that have already accrued to employees, even after bargaining in good faith to impasse.

900.00000 – IMPASSE PROCEDURES; IN GENERAL; DUTY TO PARTICIPATE IN GOOD FAITH
900.05000 – Post-Impasse

While employers are privileged to impose terms and conditions of employment on a prospective basis they cannot do so retroactively nor impose terms that abrogate outstanding obligations under an existing agreement. Parties to an agreement may expressly agree to limit an employer’s right to impose terms at impasse, or impliedly achieve that same result by agreeing to terms and conditions that do not mature until after the agreement has expired. Where the parties have agreed that contractual rights will survive expiration of their agreement, the employer may not impose terms and conditions that abrogate those rights.

1402.00000 – GENERAL LEGAL PRINCIPLES; WAIVER
1402.02000 – Union’s Waiver of Employee or Organizational Rights

Although PERB is without jurisdiction to enforce collective bargaining agreements, it may interpret contractual provisions when necessary to decide an unfair practice case. Because unilateral change allegation turned on the parties’ respective rights under their agreement, PERB examined the language of the agreement.

1404.00000 – GENERAL LEGAL PRINCIPLES; CONTRACT ENFORCEMENT/ INTERPRETATION
1404.03000 – General Principles of Contract Interpretation

In every contract dispute, the analysis must begin with the parties’ intent, as demonstrated by the ordinary and plain meaning of the language of their agreement. Every term should be given effect and, wherever possible, PERB should avoid an interpretation that disregards a contractual provision as surplus language. The Board reversed the proposed decision where the ALJ ignored contract language indicating that employees “will be placed” in certain pre-determined pay ranges and job titles as an unambiguous expression of the parties’ intent when they entered into their agreement. When referring to future events, the ordinary and plain meaning of the verb “will” is the same as “shall,” which is to impose a duty or requirement. This usage is the mandatory sense that drafters typically intend and that courts typically uphold as an enforceable obligation. Where the parties agreed that employees “will be placed” in certain pay ranges and job titles upon expiration of their agreement, it was unnecessary to consider their conduct in successor negotiations to determine their intent. Once negotiated, parties should have a reasonable expectation that their collective agreements will be enforced. Contractual rights may survive the agreement that gave rise to them, if the parties so intended.