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United Teachers Los Angeles v. Los Angeles Unified School District

September 17, 2009

UNITED TEACHERS LOS ANGELES, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Mary Ann Murphy, Judge. Reversed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS116739).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Turner, P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

I. INTRODUCTION

The United Teachers Los Angeles ("the union") appeals from an order denying its petition to compel arbitration of a dispute with Los Angeles Unified School District ("the district") over alleged collective bargaining agreement violations. The alleged violations of the collective bargaining agreement concern the district‟s approval of a charter school petition, which was made pursuant to The Charter Schools Act of 1992. (Ed. Code,*fn1 § 47600 et seq.) The district refused to submit the dispute to arbitration on the ground the charter school provision of the collective bargaining agreement either violated or was preempted by section 47611.5, subdivision (e). Citing Board of Education v. Round Valley Teachers Assn. (1996) 13 Cal.4th 269, 277-288, the trial court agreed with the district and denied the union‟s petition to compel arbitration. We reverse the order denying the petition to compel arbitration.

II. BACKGROUND

On May 11, 2007, Green Dot Public Schools filed a charter petition with the district. The petition sought to convert Alain Leroy Locke Senior High School ("Locke high school") to a charter school. The district‟s education board granted the charter school petition on September 11, 2007.

On May 9, 2008, the union filed a petition to compel arbitration pursuant to a written collective bargaining agreement. The petition alleges that Article V of the collective bargaining agreement outlines the three-step grievance procedure. The three-step grievance procedure must be pursued when the union claims the district violates the collective bargaining agreement. Article V, section 11.0 provides that if the grievance is not settled in step two, the union may submit the matter to arbitration. Article V, section 1.0 of the collective bargaining agreement defines a grievance as "a claim that the district has violated an express term" of the collective bargaining agreement. Article XII-B of the collective bargaining agreement sets forth procedures for converting a school to a charter school. Article XII-B states in part, "The primary purpose of this Article is to mitigate the potentially disruptive effect upon employees assigned to schools which are converting (or considering converting to independent charter schools." Article XII-B, section 2.0 sets forth the duties of the union and its members in processing a conversion charter petition. Article XII-B, section 3.0 establishes disclosure requirements by a charter school operator to employees of a proposed charter school.

The petition also alleges that, on August 30, 2007, the union filed a grievance against the district. The grievance alleged that the district had violated Article XII-B, sections 2.0 and 3.0 of the collective bargaining agreement in connection with the Locke high school conversion. The grievance asserted the district had violated the collective bargaining agreement by: not presenting the complete charter to employees; not giving ample time to permit affected employees and the community a reasonable opportunity to review and discuss the plan; not giving the union a copy of the proposed charter for review; and not clearly and fully disclosing the conditions of employment with the charter school. The district denied the union‟s grievance on December 4, 2007. To comply with step 2 of the grievance procedures, the union sent a letter dated January 9, 2008, to the district. The union subsequently requested arbitration of the dispute by letter dated January 29, 2008. The district refused to submit to arbitrate the controversy. The union‟s points and authorities argued: Government Code section 3548.7, which is part of the Educational Employment Relations Act, permits an aggrieved party to an arbitration clause to file a petition to compel arbitration pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1281.2; there was no dispute about the validity of the collective bargaining agreement; the trial court‟s jurisdiction was limited to determining whether there was an arbitration agreement, a refusal to do so or an exception to the duty to arbitrate; and the arbitrator must decide the substantive merits of the dispute.

The district opposed the union‟s petition to compel arbitration. First, in a footnote, the district argued the union had no standing to challenge the alleged violations of the collective bargaining agreement on behalf of its members. Second, relying upon Board of Education v. Round Valley Teachers Assn, supra, 13 Cal.4th at pages 277-288, the district asserted the union‟s claims concerning the alleged violations of the collective bargaining agreement could not be arbitrated. The district asserted that Code of Civil Procedure section 1281.2 requires the existence of a valid agreement to arbitrate. According to the district, there was no valid agreement to arbitrate the alleged violation of the collective bargaining agreement. The district reasoned that Article XII-B of the collective bargaining agreement was either preempted or invalidated by section 47611.5, subdivision (e) which provides that the approval of a charter school petition shall not be controlled by a collective bargaining agreement nor subject to review or regulation by the Public Employment Relations Board. Further, the district argued that Article XII-B of the collective bargaining agreement is invalid because it imposes procedural steps on the district beyond what is required under section 47605.

Citing Board of Education v. Round Valley Teachers Assn., supra, 13 Cal.4th at pages 277-288, the trial court denied the petition to compel arbitration. Notice of entry of the trial court‟s ruling denying the petition was given on December 17, 2008. The union filed a notice of appeal on February 13, 2009.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standing

The district asserts the union lacks standing to pursue the grievance because neither the charter school operator nor Locke high school‟s staff are parties to the collective bargaining agreement. The determination of standing to compel arbitration of a controversy is a legal question. (Bouton v. USAA, Cas. Ins. Co. (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 412, 425; Smith v. Microskills San Diego L.P. (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 892, 900.) We conclude the union had standing to file the petition to compel arbitration.

Code of Civil Procedure section 1281.2 provides that the court should compel arbitration "[o]n petition of a party to an arbitration agreement alleging the existence of a written agreement to arbitrate" subject to specified exceptions. Code of Civil Procedure section 1280, subdivision (e) states in part: ""Party to the arbitration‟ means a party to the arbitration agreement: [¶] (1) Who seeks to arbitrate a controversy pursuant to the agreement." The general rule is that a party or signatory to an arbitration agreement may seek to enforce it. (Bouton v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., supra, 167 Cal.App.4th at pp. 423-424; City of Hope v. Bryan Cave, L.L.P. (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 1356, 1369.) It is undisputed that the district and the union are both parties to the collective bargaining agreement. The union is seeking to enforce provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. The union and the district are in a dispute about a provision of the collective bargaining agreement. Thus, one party to an agreement to arbitrate is ...


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