Glendale repels lawsuit filed by main city employee's union

Glendale successfully fended off a legal attempt this week by its largest employee union to reverse a 2010 contract that reduced pay and retirement benefits.

The preliminary victory means the city isn’t liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages — for now.

The Glendale City Employees Assn. can still appeal the decision by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to throw out the union’s lawsuit that claimed Glendale engaged in unfair bargaining practices.

“This is a challenge to the city’s decision in 2010 to implement the terms in 2010,” City Atty. Mike Garcia said. “If the court finds we didn’t act within the confines of the law, they’d be entitled to undo it.”

The legal battle is yet another example of tensions between Glendale and some employee unions. Three months before Glendale cut salaries for about 1,000 rank and file employees and scaled down retirement benefits for new hires, the city declared an impasse with the bargaining group for the first time in more than a decade.

The recent lawsuit by the Glendale City Employees Assn. is the first of its kind in at least seven years.

Meanwhile, Glendale has to come to terms over a new contract with a new union for electrical workers, who protested in front of City Hall in April.

The city is also grappling with the rising costs of medical benefits, yawning budget gaps and cutting authorized positions to the lowest level in more than a decade.

The Glendale City Employees Assn. filed its lawsuit in June, asking the court to force a state board to charge the city for engaging in alleged unfair bargaining practices in 2010. A negative finding by the Public Employee Relations Board could put the city on the hook for roughly $738,000 in back wages.

Even if down the line the city is ordered to fork over the back pay, there are intermediary steps — such as informal resolution efforts — to go through before money would change hands.

The lawsuit came about two months after the Public Employee Relations Board, which is in charge of fielding complaints from public employees, dismissed the union’s charges that the city broke state law at the bargaining table.

The union’s president and attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but according to state and court records, the Glendale City Employees Assn. claims the city adopted a take-it-or-leave-it approach, retaliated against employees by imposing a salary decrease when they wouldn’t agree to a concession, and treated rank-and-file workers differently than those in the fire and police departments.

But state officials found that while the city may have driven a “hard bargain,” the Glendale City Employees Assn. did not present enough facts to support claims of an unfair bargaining charge.

“It’s not something the city wanted to do, but felt necessary to do for economic reasons,” Garcia said of the 2010 reductions. “At this point we’re just defending our legal right to do what we did."

-- Brittany Levine, Times Community News

Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ or Twitter:@brittanylevine

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