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PERB Confirms That Only a Labor Association, Not an Individual Member, May Challenge an Employer's Unilateral Action

Posted On: April 1, 2014

In Edwards v. Lake Elsinore Unified School District (2014) PERB Decision No. 2353, the California Public Employment Relations Board (“the Board”) confirmed that only an employee labor association, and not an individual public employee, may pursue an unfair labor practice charge asserting that an employer has taken unilateral action in violation of its duty to bargain. In that case, the Board adopted the Warning Letter and Dismissal Letter issued by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), ruling that an individual employee lacked standing to bring such a charge against her employer. While the case involved the Educational Employment Relations Act (“EERA”), as explained below, it should apply to all California public sector labor-relations statutes.

The Board reached its conclusion based on the following factors:

  • The purpose of EERA is to promote the improvement of employer-employee relations by recognizing one employee organization as the exclusive bargaining representative of the employees in an appropriate unit.
  • Because EERA does not contain any corresponding individual employee bargaining rights, the employer’s duty to negotiation is owed only to the exclusive representative organization.
  • Therefore, where an individual employee alleges that the employer has failed to fulfill its statutory duty to bargain in good faith, such an assertion necessarily interferes with the bargaining process.

Based on this reasoning, the Board confirmed prior case law finding that an individual cannot assert claims that an employer has violated its bargaining obligation.

While this case arose under EERA, the same principle has been applied by the Board to other statutes, including the Meyers-Milias Brown Act, the Ralph C. Dills Act, the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act, and the Trial Court Act. And while the Board does not have jurisdiction over most peace officer bargaining units and some management units under the MMBA, California courts having jurisdiction over such units strongly defer to the Board’s interpretation of the MMBA.

Comments: We welcome the Board’s decision to confirm that it is only the exclusive bargaining representative that may pursue a failure to bargain charge. There may be many reasons why a labor association elects not to pursue a unilateral change charge, and there may be any number of changes that are welcomed by the association and/or majority of the membership. Allowing a disgruntled individual to insert himself in the process to the detriment of the association and membership would be highly disruptive and harmful to labor-management relations.

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