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California Supreme Court Confirms Longstanding Rule Concerning Employee Layoffs

The Court confirms that there is no duty to bargain over the decision to initiate layoffs

IAFF, Local 188 vs. Public Employment Relations Board
City of Richmond (Real Party in Interest)

California Supreme Court No. S172377

On Monday, January 24, 2011, the California Supreme Court issued an opinion regarding an employer’s duty to bargain under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (“MMBA”) in connection with layoffs. The opinion was authored by Acting Chief Justice Kennard, with a concurring and dissenting opinion filed by Justice Baxter.

The Supreme Court simply affirmed a longstanding rule – that there is no duty to bargain over an employer’s decision to layoff, but there is a duty to bargain over the implementation and effects of the decision. This has been the ongoing advice of labor attorneys for years. There is no new law in this decision that should cause public employers to change their practices.

Since approximately 1974, it has been the rule in California that public employers need not negotiate with labor unions about the decision to initiate layoffs. However, public employers must negotiate concerning the effects or impacts of the layoffs. The City of Richmond observed this advice in connection with firefighter layoffs, and the Fire Union claimed that the failure to negotiate constituted an unfair practice under the MMBA.

This case affirms the rule. The Court expressly states: “We now reaffirm this rule. Under the MMBA, a local public entity that is faced with a decline in revenues or other financial adversity may unilaterally decide to lay off some of its employees to reduce its labor costs. In this situation, a public employer must, however, give its employees an opportunity to bargain over the implementation of the decision, including the number of employees to be laid off, and the timing of the layoffs, as well as the effects of the layoffs on the workload and safety of the remaining employees.” (Op. at 19.)

One additional aspect of the opinion is to define the criteria for permitting review of a decision by the Public Employment Relations Board (“PERB”). The Court agreed with the court of appeal that when PERB refuses to issue a complaint under the MMBA, a superior court may review the decision by mandamus. The review is limited to determining “whether PERB’s decision violates a constitutional right, exceeds a specific grant of authority, or is based on an erroneous statutory construction.” Justice Baxter dissented from this portion of the opinion.

For more information about this case or other labor and employment matters, visit our Labor and Employment practice page.