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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.
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