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City of San Jose v. International Assn. of Firefighters

October 14, 2009


(Santa Clara County Super. Ct. No. CV075858). Trial Judge: Honorable Neal A. Cabrinha.

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


This appeal arose out of a labor dispute between respondent City of San Jose and appellant International Association of Firefighters, Local 230, which represents city firefighters. At issue here is the role of the agency charged with administering public employment statutes, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). After the trial court permitted it to intervene, PERB made a successful motion to dismiss the action based on the agency‟s exclusive initial jurisdiction over the underlying labor dispute.

Appellant challenges the judgment of dismissal on both constitutional and statutory grounds. First, appellant asserts, under state constitutional home rule provisions, the dispute concerns a municipal affair that is beyond the employment statute‟s reach. Moreover, appellant contends, even assuming that the statute applies, when correctly interpreted, it denies PERB jurisdiction in this case. Finally, appellant urges, a recent statutory amendment compels reversal of the judgment of dismissal.

We agree with appellant‟s final contention, which we find dispositive. We therefore reverse the judgment of dismissal on that ground.


To provide context for our discussion of the facts and the parties‟ contentions, we begin by briefly summarizing the legal principles in play here.

Constitutional Home Rule Authority

The provision of the California Constitution pertinent to appellant‟s constitutional argument is article XI, section 5, commonly known as "home rule" authority. (Horton v. City of Oakland (2000) 82 Cal.App.4th 580, 584-585, disapproved on another ground in O'Connell v. City of Stockton (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1061, 1075, fn. 3.) Under this constitutional authority, "insofar as a charter city legislates with regard to municipal affairs, its charter prevails over general state law." (Sonoma County Organization of Public Employees v. County of Sonoma (1979) 23 Cal.3d 296, 315.) "However, as to matters of statewide concern, charter cities remain subject to state law." (Id. at pp. 315-316.)

The Relevant Public Employment Statute

Various statutes govern public employment. (See Coachella Valley Mosquito & Vector Control Dist. v. California Public Employment Relations Bd. (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1072, 1084-1086 (Coachella Valley).) At issue here is the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA), codified at Government Code sections 3500-3511.*fn1 The MMBA "governs collective bargaining and employer-employee relations for most California local public entities, including cities, counties, and special districts." (Coachella Valley,at p. 1077.)

Agency Jurisdiction

Generally speaking, the Public Employment Relations Board has exclusive initial jurisdiction over claims of unfair practices, as defined by the MMBA. (§ 3509, subd. (b); Coachella Valley, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1077.) For these purposes, unfair practice charges include not only claimed violations of the MMBA, but also claimed violations "of any rules and regulations adopted by a public agency" under the MMBA. (§ 3509, subd. (b); § 3507, subd. (d).) Where PERB has exclusive initial jurisdiction, the courts retain "only appellate, as opposed to original, jurisdiction to review PERB‟s decisions." (International Federation of Prof. & Technical Engineers v. Bunch (1995) 40 Cal.App.4th 670, 677; see § 3509.5.)

Public Employment Dispute Resolution Through Interest Arbitration

In this case, the underlying labor dispute concerns the arbitrability of certain proposals put forth by appellant during collective bargaining. "Resolution of disputed contract issues through a binding process is commonly referred to as "interest arbitration‟ in labor law." (Hess Collection Winery v. Agricultural Labor Relations Bd. (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 1584, 1596.) " "Interest arbitration, unlike grievance arbitration, focuses on what the terms of a new agreement should be, rather than the meaning of the terms of the old agreement.‟ " (Id. at pp. 1596-1597; accord, County of Sonoma v. Superior Court (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 322, 342.) Given the constitutional dimension of local government autonomy, the Legislature may not compel a city or county to submit involuntarily to binding interest arbitration. (County of Riverside v. Superior Court (2003) 30 Cal.4th 278, 282, 284.)


Respondent City of San Jose is a charter city. Appellant International Association of Firefighters, Local 230, is a recognized employee organization that represents city firefighters. By statutory definition, both parties are subject to the MMBA. (§ 3501, subd. (b).)

Contract Negotiations; Impasse; Interest Arbitration

Starting in January 2004, appellant and the City were engaged in contract negotiations for a new memorandum of agreement. They failed to reach agreement on certain points. In 2005, the parties initiated impasse procedures. Under the city charter, "All disputes or controversies pertaining to wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment which remain unresolved after good faith negotiations" are subject to mandatory interest arbitration. (Charter §1111.)*fn2

In 2006, in the interest arbitration, appellant offered 36 bargaining proposals, including two pertaining to employee retirement benefits. The first of those two proposals sought to change the composition of the Police and Fire Department Retirement Board by adding an additional retired firefighter to the board. The second proposed a revised cost methodology and actuarial tracking report separating police and firefighters.

The City asserted that both proposals fell outside the scope of bargaining, and it refused to arbitrate either proposal.

Superior Court Action

In December 2006, the City filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, seeking an order that appellant‟s two bargaining proposals are outside the scope of representation and thus are not arbitrable.

In January 2007, appellant filed a counter-petition to compel arbitration. In March 2007, appellant followed up with a motion to compel arbitration, asserting that its two bargaining proposals are within the scope of representation.

In May 2007, PERB applied to intervene in the case. The trial court granted that application. PERB then moved to dismiss the entire action, based on its assertion of exclusive initial jurisdiction to determine the disputed issues. Appellant opposed the dismissal. Following a hearing, the court granted PERB‟s motion to dismiss.

In August 2007, the trial court entered a judgment of dismissal.


In September 2007, appellant brought this timely appeal.

We granted leave to file two amicus curiae briefs, both supporting appellant; one was submitted by the California Professional Firefighters and the other by the ...

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