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United Teachers of Los Angeles v. Los Angeles Unified School District

June 28, 2012

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



Court: Superior County: Los Angeles Judge: Mary Ann Murphy Ct.App. 2/5 B214119 Super. Ct. No. BS116739

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

Los Angeles County

After the Los Angeles Unified School District (District) approved the conversion of an existing public school into a charter school, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) filed a number of grievances claiming that the District failed to comply with provisions of the collective bargaining agreement that concern charter school conversion. Unable to resolve the grievances informally, UTLA sought to compel arbitration pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement. The District argued that the collective bargaining provisions regulating charter school conversion were unlawful because they conflicted with the statutory scheme for creation and conversion of charter schools. Accordingly, the District urged, arbitration of those unlawful provisions should not be compelled.

The trial court agreed and denied UTLA's petition. But the Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that it was not for the court, on a petition to compel arbitration, to decide whether there was a conflict between the collective bargaining provisions and the charter school statutes. Instead, the Court of Appeal held that the court's function in adjudicating a petition to compel arbitration was limited to determining whether there was a valid arbitration agreement that had not been waived. Because that was the case here, the court ordered the petition to be granted. The District claims this ruling was erroneous.

We conclude that a court faced with a petition to compel arbitration to enforce collective bargaining provisions between a union and a school district should deny the petition if the collective bargaining provisions at issue directly conflict with provisions of the Education Code -- that is, if they would annul, replace, or set aside Education Code provisions. We further hold that, under the Education Code, an arbitrator has no authority to deny or revoke a school charter, as UTLA requests. Nevertheless, we express no view on whether the collective bargaining provisions cited in UTLA's grievance are necessarily in conflict with the Education Code. As explained below, UTLA has not identified with sufficient specificity which collective bargaining provisions the District allegedly violated. We thus remand this case to the trial court to give UTLA an opportunity to identify those specific provisions, and to allow the parties to address whether the provisions so identified conflict with the Education Code.

I.

On May 11, 2007, Green Dot Public Schools filed a charter petition with the District Board of Education. The petition sought to convert Alain Leroy Locke High School (Locke High School) to a charter school. The board granted the charter school petition on September 11, 2007.

On May 9, 2008, the UTLA, a union representing Los Angeles teachers and certificated support personnel, filed a petition to compel arbitration pursuant to a written collective bargaining agreement. The petition alleged that UTLA had exhausted the preliminary steps of the grievance process in Article V of the collective bargaining agreement and was submitting the matter to arbitration pursuant to the same article. 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.

UTLA's grievance alleged that the District had violated Article XII-B of the collective bargaining agreement, which 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 status." Article XII-B, section 2.0 sets forth the District's obligations to UTLA and to school employees in processing a conversion charter petition. Article XII-B, section 3.0 requires disclosures by a charter school operator to employees of a proposed charter school. These provisions are discussed in greater detail below.

Specifically, UTLA's grievance alleged that the District had violated sections 2.0 and 3.0 of Article XII-B in connection with the Locke High School charter conversion by failing (1) to present the complete charter to employees; (2) to give affected employees and the community a reasonable opportunity to review and discuss the plan; (3) to give the union a copy of the proposed charter for review; and (4) to clearly and fully disclose the conditions of employment within the charter school. The District refused to arbitrate the controversy, prompting UTLA's petition to compel arbitration.

The District opposed the union's petition. Relying upon Board of Education v. Round Valley Teachers Assn. (1996) 13 Cal.4th 269, 277-288 (Round Valley), the District argued that UTLA's grievances could not be arbitrated because the collective bargaining provisions that UTLA sought to enforce conflict with Education Code section 47611.5, subdivision (e), which provides that the approval of a charter school petition shall not be controlled by a collective bargaining agreement. Further, the District argued that Article XII-B of the collective bargaining agreement is invalid because it requires the District to take procedural steps beyond what is required under Education Code section 47605. (All further statutory references are to the Education Code unless otherwise indicated.)

Citing Round Valley, the trial court denied the petition to compel arbitration, essentially agreeing with the District's arguments. The Court of Appeal reversed. Relying on California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. v. State of California (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 198 (California Correctional Peace Officers), the court held that its inquiry was limited to whether there was a valid arbitration agreement that had not been waived, and it found that there was such an agreement here. The court interpreted Round Valley to stand for the proposition that courts may vacate an arbitration award in conflict with the Education Code, not that courts may decline to order arbitration. Thus, the Court of Appeal held that the collective bargaining agreement's arbitration provision should be enforced and that the alleged conflict between the collective bargaining provisions on charter school conversion and the Education Code should be decided in the first instance by the arbitrator. We granted review.

The resolution of this appeal requires us to address two arguments made by UTLA. First, UTLA argues that the question of whether the collective bargaining provisions on charter school conversion conflict with the Education Code is irrelevant to determining whether to grant a petition to compel arbitration. Like the Court of Appeal, UTLA contends that courts faced with a petition to compel arbitration should ask only whether there is a valid arbitration agreement that has not been waived, and not whether the underlying claim to be arbitrated has merit. Second, UTLA argues that, in any event, the collective bargaining provisions at issue do not conflict with the Education Code.

II.

In defining a court's role in ruling on a petition to compel arbitration to enforce a collective bargaining agreement between a school district and its employees, we are required to resolve a tension between two principles: (1) collective bargaining provisions in conflict with the Education Code are unenforceable, and (2) courts generally do not examine the merits of the underlying dispute in deciding whether to enforce arbitration agreements.

A.

In reconciling these principles, our analysis begins with San Mateo City School Dist. v. Public Employment Relations Bd. (1983) 33 Cal.3d 850 (San Mateo), a case arising from disputes in several school districts regarding their obligation to bargain with employee unions under the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA). As we explained: "The EERA establishes a system of collective bargaining for employees of public school districts educating students in grades kindergarten through 14. It was enacted in 1975 (Stats. 1975, ch. 961, § 2, p. 2247, operative July 1, 1976; codified as [Gov. Code,] §§ 3540-3549.3). The Act requires the school district employer to meet and negotiate in good faith with the duly selected exclusive representative of its employees as to subjects within the statutorily defined scope of representation. (§§ 3543.3, 3543.5.) The parties may enter into a binding agreement (§ 3540.1, subd. (h)), and they may agree that disputes involving interpretation, application or violation of the agreement will be resolved through binding arbitration (§§ 3548.5, 3548.6, 3548.7). The employer must negotiate in good faith and must submit to mediation and advisory fact-finding when an impasse in negotiations is determined to have been reached. (§§ 3548-3548.3.) But the final decision as to the terms of the negotiated agreement, including those matters within the scope of representation, is reserved to the employer. (§ 3549.)

"The purpose of the EERA is set forth in section 3540: 'to promote the improvement of personnel management and employer-employee relations within the public school systems in . . . California by providing a uniform basis for recognizing the right of public school employees to join organizations of their own choice, to be represented by such organizations in their professional and employment relationships with public school employers, to select one employee organization as the exclusive representative of the employees in an appropriate unit, and to afford certificated employees a voice in the formulation of educational policy.' " (San Mateo, supra, 33 Cal.3d at pp. 855-856.)

One of the issues in San Mateo was the relationship between the EERA and the Education Code, and specifically the meaning of Government Code section 3540's statement that "[t]his chapter [pertaining to the EERA] shall not supersede other provisions of the Education Code . . . ." In San Mateo, we adopted the view of the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that this clause of section 3540 -- sometimes called the "non-supersession clause" -- prohibits negotiations when "provisions of the Education Code would be 'replaced, set aside or annulled by the language of the proposed contract clause.' . . . 'Unless the statutory language [of the Education Code] clearly evidences an intent to set an inflexible standard or insure immutable provisions, the negotiability of a proposal should not be precluded.' " (San Mateo, supra, 33 Cal.3d at pp. 864-865.)

Elaborating on this framework, the court in San Mateo considered the school districts' argument that "some parts of the Education Code exhibit a legislative intent to fully occupy the field to which they pertain thereby denoting that the Legislature also clearly intended to preclude collective negotiations and agreements in the same field. Where such statutory schemes are involved, a contract proposal may be in conflict without 'annulling' the statute, and negotiations should be prohibited. [¶] The primary example offered is those sections establishing a scheme for the layoff of classified employees. (Ed. Code, §§ 45101, subd. (g), 45114, 45115, 45117, 45298, and 45308.) Another example would be found in Education Code sections 45113 and 45116, pertaining to causes and procedures leading to disciplinary action." (San Mateo, supra, 33 Cal.3d at p. 866.) We agreed with the school districts that "these particular statutes mandate certain procedures, protections and entitlements for classified employees who are to be laid off or disciplined. The intent of section 3540 is to preclude contractual agreements which would alter these statutory provisions. [¶] Where statutes are mandatory, . . . a contract proposal which would alter the statutory scheme would be nonnegotiable under PERB's application of section 3540 because the proposal would 'replace or set aside' the section of the Education Code." (Ibid.) On the other hand, where collective bargaining on a subject regulated by the Education Code "would not supersede the relevant part of the Education Code, but would strengthen it," bargaining is permitted. (Ibid.)

We applied the San Mateo framework to arbitration in Round Valley, where we vacated an arbitration award reinstating a probationary teacher who had not been reelected (i.e., permanently retained). Although the district had not followed the due process and just cause provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, we concluded that those provisions were unenforceable because they conflicted with the district's authority under section 44929.21, subdivision (b) to decide not to re-elect a probationary teacher without affording the teacher such due process protections. (Round Valley, supra, 13 Cal.4th at pp. 283-285.) We explained that this conclusion was consistent with San Mateo's "observ[ation] that the intent of the Government Code is to preclude contractual agreements that would alter the meaning of other statutory provisions. As District observes, if we were to validate the requirements of [the collective bargaining] agreement with Association, we would severely undermine section 44929.21(b). Indeed, under San Mateo, supra, enforcement of [the collective bargaining provision] would result in replacing or setting aside a nonnegotiable and mandatory provision of the Education Code, a result . . . Government Code section 3540 et seq. sought to avoid." (Round Valley, at p. 286, italics in original.) We held that "[w]hen the Legislature vests exclusive discretion in a body to determine the scope of procedural protections to specific employees, the subject matter may not be the subject of either mandatory or permissive collective bargaining" and, on that basis, vacated the arbitration award because it sought to enforce an unlawful collective bargaining provision. (Id. at p. 287; see also Sunnyvale Unified School Dist. v. Jacobs (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 168 [where probationary teacher claims nonreelection was motivated by retaliation for participation in union activities, the only remedy is filing an unfair labor practice charge with PERB, not arbitration pursuant to collective bargaining agreement].)

Although Round Valley involved vacatur of an award arising from an already completed arbitration, the principles expounded in Round Valley and San Mateo have been applied in two Court of Appeal cases to deny a petition to compel arbitration. In United Steelworkers of America v. Board of Education (1984) 162 Cal.App.3d 823, the court upheld the denial of a petition to compel arbitration of a disputed collective bargaining provision concerning the Fontana Unified School District's termination of a bus driver who was a permanent classified employee. The court determined that such arbitration would directly conflict with section 45113, which at the time stated that " '[a]ny employee designated as a permanent employee shall be subject to disciplinary action only for cause as prescribed by rule or regulation of the governing board, but the governing board's determination of the sufficiency of the cause for disciplinary action shall be conclusive.' " (United Steelworkers, at p. 832, italics omitted.) Noting that our decision in San Mateo had specifically cited section 45113 as an example of an Education Code statute mandating "certain, procedures, protections and entitlements" that cannot be altered by a collective bargaining agreement (United Steelworkers, at p. 832, citing San Mateo, supra, 33 Cal.3d at p. 866, italics omitted), the court concluded that "under the San Mateo rationale, the governing board's determination as to sufficiency of cause to terminate is conclusive and cannot be usurped by an agreement with the Union to subsequently submit grievances to binding arbitration" (United Steelworkers, at p. 833).

In Fontana Teachers Assn. v. Fontana Unified School Dist. (1988) 201 Cal.App.3d 1517, 1521-1526 (Fontana), the court undertook a statutory analysis similar to our own in Round Valley to conclude that collective bargaining provisions for non-re-election of a probationary teacher were preempted by the Education Code and thus not subject to arbitration. In Round Valley, we specifically endorsed the result in Fontana, though not all of its reasoning. (Round Valley, supra, 13 Cal.4th at p. 283 [approving Fontana's refusal to compel arbitration in light of Government Code section 3543.2, subdivision (a)'s "general intent to exclude the procedures governing the re-election of probationary teachers as a proper subject of collective bargaining"].)

The conclusion that courts should refuse to compel arbitration of collective bargaining provisions in conflict with the Education Code is consistent with the statutory scheme governing arbitration under the EERA. Government Code section 3548.5 provides: "A public school employer and an exclusive representative who enter into a written agreement covering matterswithin the scope of representationmay include in the agreement procedures for final and binding arbitration of such disputes as may arise involving the interpretation, application, or violation of the agreement." The statute makes clear that authorization to arbitrate is predicated on the existence of a collective bargaining agreement "covering matters within the scope of representation." Under Government Code section 3543.2, subdivision (a), the "scope of representation" is defined broadly to include wages, hours, benefits, leave, transfer and reassignment policies, safety conditions, class size, and procedures for evaluation, discipline, layoff, and grievance, among other topics. But, as we held in San Mateo, the scope of representation does not include matters that would annul, set aside, or replace portions of the Education Code. ...


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