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Public Agency Can Unilaterally Decide to Lay Off Employees

On March 18, 2009, the California Court of Appeal held that the City of Richmond’s decision to lay off its firefighters was not subject to collective bargaining, but that the effects of that layoff decision, such as the workload and safety of remaining employees, were subject to the meet and confer requirements of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA).

The court emphasized that the union’s attempt to re-characterize the layoff decision as a change in shift staffing did not transform it into a mandatory subject of collective bargaining.

In 2004, in the face of a severe financial crisis, the City of Richmond laid off 18 firefighters. The firefighters’ union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), contending that changes in firefighter staffing levels that primarily involved workload and safety were mandatory subjects of collective bargaining. PERB dismissed the charge and refused to issue a complaint, relying on Fire Fighters Union v. City of Vallejo, 12 Cal.3d 608 (1974). The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that “workload and safety issues resulting from a decision to lay off firefighters are subject to negotiation. The layoff decision itself, however, is not subject to negotiation.”

In another part of the opinion, the court held that limited judicial review – under the deferential abuse of discretion standard – is available to challenge a PERB decision not to issue a complaint. In dicta, the court implied that changes in equipment staffing could be subject to meet and confer because they had more impact upon workload and safety.

Unless a collective bargaining agreement, personnel policy, charter or municipal code provides otherwise, a public agency has no duty to meet and confer with unions about its decision to lay off employees, but the effects of that layoff decision – such as workload, safety issues, severance pay, seniority, pensions, timing, and the number and identity of employees affected – are subject to bargaining under the MMBA. A union must request to negotiate about the effects, otherwise it waives its right to do so.

For more information about this case (International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 188, AFL-CIO vs. Public Employment Relations Board), — Cal.Rptr.3d –, 2009 WL 693255 (Cal. Ct. App. Mar. 18, 2009), or other layoff issues, please visit our Labor and Employment practice page.