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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bad Faith Bargaining: Kiona Benton Education Association Breached Its Good Faith Bargaining Obligation

AUGUST 29, 2014 by ADMIN

PERC Affirms Ruling Union Improperly Circumvented Employer’s Designated Collective Bargaining Rep
By Therese Norton
In Kiona Benton School District, the Public Employee Relations Commission affirmed Examiner Coss’s finding that the Kiona Benton Education Association, the Union that represents certain teachers in the School District, breached its good faith bargaining obligation under State collective bargaining laws by refusing to communicate with the District’s designated collective bargaining representatives.

Twice, the District sent emails notifying the Association of its two designated representatives and, if those individuals were not available, that the Association could contact the Superintendent of the District. The Association responded by email to one of the designated representatives indicating that the Union’s representative would not contact the designated point of contact and would only communicate with the Superintendent.

On Appeal, the Association argued that it did not commit a refusal to bargain unfair labor practice, because the District had repeatedly departed from its direction and a different Employer representative communicated directly with the Association regularly.  The Association also argued that the two designated individuals were unavailable or unqualified to respond when the Association contacted another Employer representative.

The Commission was not persuaded and found that the Association’s arguments were “attempts to justify” its actions.  The Commission reasoned that regardless of the Union’s explanation, the fact remains that the Union representative put in writing his refusal to communicate with the Employer’s designated representative.  The Commission determined that the response from the Union was “a clear refusal to communicate with the employer’s designated collective bargaining representative.” Therefore, the Commission concluded that the Union’s refusal interfered with the Employer’s right to select its representative for collective bargaining.

The Commission distinguished between Union officials’ right to lobby public officials on public issues and when a Union official commits an unfair labor practice by circumventing the Employer’s chosen bargaining representative.  In this case, the Commission explained that the District had designated a primary representative and the Association crossed the line into an unfair labor practice when it specifically informed the District that it would not communicated with that designated individual.

For a more about this case, please refer to our previous blog article.

Editor’s Note [Chris Casillas]: This case should not be viewed as prohibiting or limiting the ability of a union to directly contact and petition the elected representative(s) of an Employer.  In fact, PERC reaffirms in this case that Unions have such a right.  What set this case apart was that the Union officials repeatedly refused to funnel their communications through the Employer’s designated bargaining representatives, and instead sought to contact the School Superintendent directly on matters of collective bargaining.  While both sides have to respect who the other side has designated as their bargaining representatives, this does not mean that the Union is prohibited from seeking out and petitioning their elected officials to lobby on behalf of their members.



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