The County of Santa Clara and the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers' Association (Association) entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in June 2008 that was valid through May 29, 2011 and from year to year thereafter.  The MOU provided that a full work week is 40 hours except as otherwise provided in the MOU or by law, and it recognized three alternative work schedules for correctional officers: five eight-hour days a week (the 5/8 Plan), four ten-hour days a week (the 4/10 Plan), or 12.25 hours four days one week and three days the next (the 12 Plan).  The 12 Plan, which called for 85.75 hours biweekly, was the exception to the 40-hour work week. 

Section 7.1 of the MOU reserved for the Appointing Authority the right to convert assignments on the 12 Plan to either a 5/8 or 4/10 Plan "upon the giving of forty-five (45) calendar days' advance notice of such change to the Association, which shall be afforded the opportunity to meet and confer on such a proposed change prior to its implementation."

In 2011, the County was facing a projected budget deficit of $230 million, and asked the Department of Corrections (DOC) to make budget cuts of $15 million while avoiding staff layoffs.  The Acting Chief of the DOC notified the Association by certified letter on May 19, 2011 that it intended to change the 12 Plan to a 5/8, 4/10 or modified 12 Plan (80-hour work schedule) to become effective on July 4, 2011, but that the assignments would not be implemented until the parties had an opportunity to meet and confer. 

The Acting Chief and representatives of the DOC met three times.  At the meetings, the Association disputed the existence of the budget deficit, but failed to offer other alternatives for saving $15 million.  Five days before the third meeting, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to accept the County's proposed budget, which included the modified 12 Plan.   

Approximately two weeks after the third and final meeting, the Association provided the County with the results of the members' vote.  The Association members rejected the County's MOU proposal by a vote of 200 to 15.  As to the different 12 Plan schedules presented, 236 members voted in favor of one eight-hour day per pay period with the rest 12-hour days. 

The Association filed a petition for writ of mandate, alleging that by modifying the 12 Plan the County breached its duties to meet and confer and to bargain in good faith under the MOU, the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) and the County's Code.  The trial court denied the petition, and the Association appealed.  The Court of Appeal affirmed.

On appeal, the County asserted that the Association's action was barred because it failed to exhaust the procedures in the MOU for resolving employee grievances and organizational grievances.  However, because the MOU specifically exempts from the grievance procedures any "[i]tems within the scope of representation and subject to the meet and confer process," the Court of Appeal rejected the argument.  The County also asserted that "a compelling business necessity" justified unilateral action.  However, the Court held that the evidence did not establish a financial emergency that required an immediate response, but rather budget cuts that were foreseeable in nature.   

The Association argued that the County set an arbitrary deadline and failed to meet its obligation to meet and confer in good faith, including participating in impasse resolution, before implementing the work schedule change. 

The Court rejected the Association's argument that the County set an arbitrary deadline.  Government Code section 3505, part of the MMBA, requires parties to meet and confer promptly and "continue for a reasonable period of time."  In this case, the MOU provided that the County could convert 12 Plan assignments to the 5/8 or 4/10 Plans 45 days after giving written notice and providing the opportunity to meet and confer.  The County scheduled this modification to coincide with its new fiscal year.  The Court held that neither the 45-day period nor the date was an arbitrary deadline.

The Court also rejected the Association's argument that the County was required to proceed to impasse.  In 2011, when the Association filed its writ petition, the MMBA did not mandate an impasse resolution procedure.  And, while the Santa Clara County Code allows for impasse and provides the procedures for doing so, it does not mandate that parties proceed to impasse. 

Further, as the County argued, the impasse procedures were never triggered because the County reserved the right to unilaterally convert the 12 Plan as long as it gave the Association 45-days notice of the proposed change and provided the opportunity to meet and confer.  In light of the County's reserved right in the MOU and its inherent managerial right to decide how to accomplish its budget target, the Court held that the County was not required by the MOU or the MMBA to meet and confer about the need to reduce the budget of the DOC or about the policy decision to avoid layoffs in making reductions.  The MOU only required the County to meet and confer regarding the details of implementing its right to convert 12 Plan employees to other plans.

While the MOU only explicitly granted the County the right to convert employees from the 12 Plan to a 5/8 or 4/10 Plan, and not to a Modified 12 Plan, the Court held that this conversion right, as well as the power to lay off employees for budgetary reasons, implicitly included the right to offer its 12 Plan employees other formulas for working 80 hours biweekly.  Because the County met and conferred before exercising this reserved right, it complied with its meet and confer obligations.  Further, because the County met with the Association three times to discuss implementation, it met its obligation to bargain in good faith.  Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court's denial of the Association's writ petition.

Note: 

As the Court of Appeal noted in its decision, the MMBA did not mandate an impasse resolution procedure when the Association filed its writ petition.  That same year, the Legislature passed AB 646, which amended the MMBA.  Effective January 1, 2012, if either party provides a written notice of impasse, the employee association may request fact-finding, which is a process similar to advisory arbitration.  The timing for requesting fact-finding depends on whether the parties first decide to mediate, which remains voluntary under the MMBA.  If the parties use impasse mediation, the employee association has 30-45 days from the appointment or selection of the mediator to request fact-finding.  If the parties do not go to mediation, the employee association has 30 days from the declaration of impasse.  

Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers' Association, Inc. v. County of Santa Clara (2014) __ Cal.App.4th __ [2014 WL 1013230].