The Fourth District Court of Appeal has issued its long-awaited decisions in San Diego Housing Commission v. Public Employment Relations Board and County of Riverside v. Public Employment Relations Board. Both cases challenged the Public Employment Relations Board's (PERB) granting of an employee organization's request for fact finding under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA).

The Court of Appeal held that the MMBA's fact finding procedures apply to all bargaining disputes, not just disputes arising from comprehensive negotiations for a memorandum of understanding (MOU). In so holding, the Court relied heavily on PERB's rationale in County of Contra Costa (2014) PERB Dec. No. Ad–410–M, and City and County of San Francisco (2014) PERB Dec. No. Ad–419–M, which found that AB 646's fact finding procedures, codified at Government Code sections 3505.4 through 3505.7, apply not only to impasse following comprehensive MOU negotiations, but also to impasse over any matters within the scope of representation.

The Court summarized PERB's rationale in supporting its holding. First, the MMBA does not contain any language expressly limiting its fact finding procedures to impasse pertaining to comprehensive MOU negotiations. Second, PERB already applies similar fact finding procedures to discrete bargaining impasses under two other statutes within PERB's jurisdiction (EERA and HEERA). Third, interpreting the MMBA to apply to all disputes is consistent with the legislative history of AB 646. Finally, interpreting the MMBA fact finding procedures to apply to all bargaining disputes is consistent with the parties' obligation to bargain on any negotiable issue, and to prepare an MOU to reflect that agreement. The Court also stated that PERB should be afforded substantial deference given its experience and expertise in dealing with labor relations issues. Thus, the Court believed it must defer to PERB's interpretation unless clearly erroneous.

In reaching its holding, the Court also dismissed the Commission's argument that the reference to "any applicable mediation and fact finding procedures" and "implementation of an MOU" within AB 646 demonstrates that the fact finding procedures only applied to comprehensive MOU negotiations. However, the Court stated that the cited language existed before the Legislature added the fact finding provisions to the MMBA and offered no assistance in interpreting the statute. The Court also noted the language was more reasonably read to reflect that, absent a request, mediation and fact finding may not occur following a declaration of impasse.

The Court also rejected the argument that AB 646's legislative history demonstrates that the statute was meant only to apply to comprehensive MOU negotiations. The Court pointed out that the legislative history related to the mandatory nature of the fact finding procedures, not the scope of its application.

While the Court agreed that the EERA and HEERA's impasse and fact finding rules differed procedurally from the MMBA, it noted that there was no explanation for how those distinctions limited MMBA fact finding to comprehensive MOU negotiations. Finally, the Court noted that since the purpose of the MMBA is to promote full communication between public agencies and public employee organizations and provide for a reasonable method of dispute resolution, it was not reasonable to presume that the resolution of disputes should be limited to just comprehensive MOU negotiations and not discrete bargainable issues.

The Court applied this same rationale to its decision in County of Riverside, and remanded both cases back to their respective trial courts.

Note:

This case is important because it now means that any dispute regarding a matter within the scope of representation could result in fact finding. Agencies can potentially expect delays in implementing any negotiable terms as it is possible that the employee association will seek fact finding whenever impasse is reached. Accordingly, agencies should be prepared to issue a last, best and final even when bargaining over matters not involving comprehensive MOU negotiations. Agencies must also remember to issue a written declaration of impasse as that will trigger the timeline for the union to request fact finding. EERA and HEERA agencies have been dealing with fact finding on single-item issues for years and now it appears agencies covered by the MMBA will also be dealing with it as well.

San Diego Housing Commission v. Public Employment Relations Board (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1 and County of Riverside v. Public Employment Relations Board (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 20.