March 15, 2010

More Re: Committee Wins

Justin Katz

Here's the decision from Superior Court Justice Silverstein: PDF.

About halfway through the document, it appears that Silverstein would draw his lines very tightly around his ruling in favor of the school committee:

Under the language of § 16-2-9 a school committee must bargain in good faith with certified public school teachers in accordance with Title 28 and honor current collective bargaining agreements. However, under a narrow set of circumstances, when such collective bargaining negotiations have reached an impasse and there is no longer a valid collective bargaining agreement, a school committee must comply with the mandate in subsection (d) and avoid maintaining a school budget that results in debt.

However, in most of the substantive ways in which Anchor Rising readers might want a little bit of breadth to the ruling, they won't be disappointed. For one, the judge determined that a never-ending contract is not implied by existing laws (citations deleted):

Although the Union contends that the Committee was under a statutory duty to continue to adhere to the terms and conditions of the expired CBA until a successor agreement was realized, the Court disagrees. Title 28 does not contain such a mandate pertaining to school teachers' labor contracts, and in fact under § 28-9.3-4, "no contract shall exceed the term of three (3) years." Further, when previously discussing the effect of an expired contract this Court found it to be no longer valid and cited to Providence Teachers Union v. Providence School Bd., City of Cranston v. Teamsters Local 251, In Providence Teachers, when discussing the effect of a general arbitration clause in an expired contract, the Court stated that "[a]n expired contract has by its own terms released all its parties from their respective contractual obligations, except obligations already fixed under the contract but as yet unsatisfied." Here, the CBA by its terms expired prior to the implementation of the disputed salary and benefits changes. Therefore, the Court finds that the CBA was no longer binding and the Committee did not "abrogate any agreement reached by collective bargaining."

And when a school committee finds itself facing a budgetary shortfall (determined as a measure of its best knowledge on the date that it takes action), and when the contract has expired, employees don't have an overriding claim to district money beyond other line items under the committee's control (citations deleted):

The Union has continually argued that there were other avenues that the Committee could have taken to reduce the FY 09 deficit. However, this Court remains mindful that under § 16-2-9 the Committee is vested with the entire care, control, and management of the interests of the East Providence public schools. Further, under the same provision the Committee has both the power and the duty to adopt a school budget. Accordingly, this Court will not discuss whether the changes to the teachers' salary and benefits were the only or even the best possible way to comply with the balanced budget mandate of § 16-2-9(d). However, this Court does note that the parties stipulated that the teachers' salaries and benefits consumed 63% of the Committee's total revenue from all sources for FY 09. Therefore, given the mandate in § 16-2-9(d) that a school committee "shall be responsible for maintaining a school budget which does not result in a debt" and the evidence before this Court that the Committee was, in fact, facing a debt for FY 09, this Court declares that the Committee acted lawfully under Title 16 by implementing the teachers' salary and benefit changes.

Lastly, Siverstein found that the State Labor Relations Board cannot, in effect, make law to suit its rulings (citations deleted):

The Court is mindful that when deciding such questions, the SLRB is empowered under § 28-7-22 to issue orders and award the relief it deems to be appropriate. However, our Supreme Court has cautioned that "[n]o state official by administrative action can affect the substantive rights of parties as they have been set forth by an affirmative act of the general assembly." Further, as indicated supra, administrative agencies are bound by statutory schemes and a decision or award is invalid if the decision or award contravenes a statutory scheme.
Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

!@#$ awesome!!!

Posted by: bob at March 15, 2010 9:52 PM

"Although the Union contends that the Committee was under a statutory duty to continue to adhere to the terms and conditions of the expired CBA until a successor agreement was realized, the Court disagrees. "

Well, there's the answer to my question then. If there's no contract, a town can dismiss the entire union if it chooses to. That too could change the game a bit.

Posted by: Patrick at March 15, 2010 10:11 PM

This kills the Caruolo Act under these same circumstances, kills the ability of an arbitrator to force more spending on a community under the same circumstances and kills the concept of perpetual contracts (a truly unconstitutional concept).

Unless the RISC over rules here this changes the landscape forever.

Posted by: doughboys at March 16, 2010 9:23 AM

Are we sure this really happened and not something that Marc and Justin dreamed up? I mean, there is zero mention of it over on the other blog and if the judge's decision were to have come back in favor of the union, they'd be dancing the streets and calling the SC members idiots (and worse) for wasting the taxpayers' money on the suit.

So should we ask the EP union members if they feel their dues payments have been "wasted" by this poor leadership?

Posted by: Patrick at March 16, 2010 9:28 AM

Wait till the union is forced to cover the city's legal expenses.

Posted by: doughboys at March 16, 2010 10:28 AM

Justin the pdf link is dead, server error.

Posted by: doughboys at March 16, 2010 10:29 AM

Doughboys, it would certainly be justice if the union were to be ordered to pay the city's expenses.

Posted by: BobN at March 16, 2010 11:09 AM

The other thing that this ruling could do is to greatly increase the value of the end date of a contract in negotiations.

Right now, the contracts usually end on August 31. I say move that back to June 30. Even if the town has to give up something else for that in exchange. Once you have it, it's a pretty valuable tool. Imagine being on the side of the union and realizing that you need to settle the contract by July 1 or you don't get paid for two months? Or worse, you might not have a job in September?

Currently, the unions have had that power. Their contract was in effect until August 31, and there was the belief that these contracts were virtually in perpetuity. So now, move the contract end date to June 30, and if there is no resolution by that date, the town can then work for two months to hire teachers. I'm guessing you'd have current teachers breaking ranks and there are hundreds of other people who would jump at the opportunity. Just look at the job fair for the Blackstone Valley Academy where there were over 100 applicants for just 7 jobs. Not bad for an employer who the union will tell you is the spawn of the devil.

Posted by: Patrick at March 16, 2010 11:54 AM

Sorry, doughboys. I've fixed the file.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 16, 2010 12:17 PM

Thanks, nothing to be sorry about. I really appreciate being able to read the decision.

Posted by: doughboys at March 16, 2010 12:28 PM

Patrick, a better solution is to enact a right-to-work law and force the unions to compete with freely willing, non-union teachers for those jobs.

Posted by: BobN at March 16, 2010 8:13 PM

Bob, but better doesn't always equal easier. We're seeing what one local committee can do to buck the system. Now other SCs will be a little more emboldened to "fight back" during negotiations, now that they can see that they might have a chance at winning. Changing the contract end date is something that the people who directly negotiate the contract can do. It's not something that I'm going to hold my breath waiting for the band of dummies on Smith Hill to help with.

Posted by: Patrick at March 16, 2010 8:16 PM

Oh, I never said it would be easier. But it is the correct, permanent solution to the problem of union monopoly established by corrupt politicians.

Posted by: BobN at March 17, 2010 5:18 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.