Appelate court blocks pay-cut complaint

An attempt by the city’s largest union to reverse a 2010 contract that reduced pay was blocked, yet again, on Friday by a three-judge panel from the state’s Los Angeles-based Court of Appeal.

Although the city may have engaged in one instance of “bad-faith bargaining” in 2010, that wasn’t sufficient to let the union’s case move forward, the panel ruled on a 2-1 vote.

The decision was another stumbling block for the Glendale City Employees Assn., which has been fighting the pay cut since 2011. Although city officials cancelled the pay reduction for nearly 1,000 rank-and-file employees during last year’s contract negotiations, the union continued its legal battle.

“It’s not that we want a ton of money from the city,” said union chairman Craig Hinckley. “We just want to be treated fairly.”

Union and city officials sit down annually to hash out contracts. In recent years, the city has pushed for more employee concessions, such as increasing the percentage workers’ pay for their own pension costs, as the financial burden of salaries and benefits continue to dampen fiscal health. The city is currently offering buyouts to employees worth six months of their salaries to trim down the workforce after already cutting 150 people through a retirement incentives.

In 2010, after coming to an impasse, the City Council cut pay across the board by 1.5% for the Glendale City Employee Assn. members and scaled-down retirement benefits for new hires. Last year, the council slashed pay for the Glendale Water & Power union by 1.75% after reaching impasse, as well. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 is also in a legal tussle over that decision.

The Glendale City Employees Assn. first attempted to reverse the pay cut through the Public Employment Relations Board, a state administrative arm that has jurisdiction over government employee issues. When a decision maker for that body denied the request without a full hearing, the union sued the board in Los Angeles Superior Court. The city was also involved in that lawsuit.

The union failed at the trial court level and then filed an appeal to the Second Appellate District. If the union had prevailed at the administrative level, Glendale could have been on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages.

The Glendale City Employees Assn. claimed in court documents that the city adopted a take-it-or-leave-it-approach, retaliated against employees by imposing a salary drop and treated rank-and-file employees differently than those in the police and fire departments.

The Public Employment Relations Board ruled there was one instance of so-called “surface bargaining” in 2010, which is when one party goes through the motions of bargaining with no intention of reaching an agreement, but according to state law, the board needed to verify more examples to side with the union. The majority of the appellate judges agreed.

The city offered one contract with fewer concessions one month after another version went sour, marking the single example of bad-faith bargaining, according to the board, but other complaints brought by the union were unfounded because a “firm position is not bad faith,” court documents show.

But Appellate Court Judge Richard Mosk, the dissenting vote, said the union’s allegations had merit.

“If the city does one act that is contrary to bargaining in good faith, it seems reasonable to conclude that there is a…case that it is not bargaining in good faith,” Mosk wrote in his opinion.

The union is examining options for next steps, Hinckley said.

“Obviously we’re trying to use whatever abilities we have to get to a point that something falls in our favor,” he said.

According to the court decision, the union is responsible for all appeal costs. The total cost was not described in the court opinion. An attorney with the Public Employee Relations Board did not return a request for comment.


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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