KELLER THOMA CLIENT PREVAILS IN SIGNIFICANT ARBITRATION CASE REGARDING PROHIBITED SUBJECTS OF BARGAINING IN TEACHER LAYOFFS

In a recently issued Arbitration Opinion and Award, one of Keller Thoma’s school district clients prevailed in a case involving teacher layoffs, which is a prohibited subject of bargaining under Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act (PERA).

On July 19, 2011, PERA was amended by Public Act 103 making decisions concerning staffing and program reductions and the layoff of teachers a prohibited (or illegal) subject of bargaining, that is “within the sole authority of the public school employer to decide.” Public Act 103 also provides that the “impact” of such decisions on either the union or the employee are also prohibited subjects of bargaining. A contractual provision dealing with a prohibited subject of bargaining is not enforceable.

In this case, and consistent with this State law, the school district had removed all provisions dealing with layoff and recall from its collective bargaining agreement with the teachers’ union. However, when the school district laid off teachers during the school year, the teachers’ union filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement alleging violations of the wages and benefits provisions of the contract. The union contended that, while the school district had the right to layoff these teachers, the collective bargaining agreement still required that the wages and benefits contained in that agreement must be continued for the laid-off teachers.

The school district filed a request for the summary dismissal of the grievance with the arbitrator, contending that to the extent that the union was asserting that the school district must continue to provide salary and benefits to laid-off teachers, the union was arguing that the wages and benefits provisions of the contract addressed a prohibited subject of bargaining (specifically the impact of a layoff decision), and that such an interpretation of the contract was in violation of Public Act 103.

In granting the school district’s request for the summary dismissal of the grievance, the arbitrator held as follows:

[t]he law characterizes any and all impact on the individual or the bargaining unit caused by a layoff…a prohibited/illegal subject of bargaining and hence beyond my authority to consider.

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I am persuaded that the District’s argument is correct and thus I must conclude that any impact on the relationship as defined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and specifically those provisions cited by the Association, in its amended grievance, are beyond my jurisdiction. Thus, I am compelled to find that I do not have the authority to address this grievance.

This case represents a major victory for school districts facing the unfortunate possibility of laying off teaching staff. Please contact a Keller Thoma attorney if you wish to discuss this case.

Categories: Case Alerts, KT

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