PERB Finds The City of Alhambra In Violation of Collective Bargaining Laws

Christmas came early for firefighters at the City of Alhambra! While most understand that an employer cannot violate its collective bargaining unit, what often goes unnoticed and unchallenged are changes to employer working conditions that are not necessarily memorialized in writing. Employers cannot simply change most working conditions without first meeting and conferring—this means actual changes to unwritten work conditions, or even changes to the way they interpret existing written provisions and policies.

On December 22, 2023, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) issued its decision in the matter of Alhambra Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 1578 v. City of Alhambra, finding in favor of Local 1578 and against the City of Alhambra. PERB determined that the City violated the Meyers-Milas-Brown Act, California Government Code Section 3500 (MMBA), and ordered the City to cease and desist from its illegal actions and make financial restitution to the negatively impacted members.

In this case, the City unilaterally interpreted an existing MOU provision in a new manner, to the detriment of Local 1578 members. Historically, when firefighters became paramedics and joined the paramedic program, they would retain their original anniversary date, rather than reset the date based upon becoming a paramedic. That had been how the City and Local 1578 had operated for years.

In 2022, the City unilaterally decided that it no longer wanted to operate that way. It felt that newly appointed paramedics should have a new anniversary date, and thereby have to wait at least an entire additional year, before earning a basic step increase. This was a dramatic change, as it meant a firefighter whose anniversary date was about to approach and who became a paramedic, would now have to wait another year, effectively making it almost two years, before obtaining a step increase.

The City brazenly stated that every prior instance where it had not reset the anniversary date was a mistake and oversight, and thereafter went after Local 1578 members trying to recoup the monies paid based upon this change in interpretation. Local 1578 reached out to the FERRONE LAW GROUP for help.

An unfair labor charge was immediately filed against the City. PERB reviewed the filings and preliminarily determined that the City was in violation of the MMBA through its actions. Despite this, the City stubbornly refused to come to grips with reality and maintained its erroneous position. Attorney Michael McGill took the matter to a formal hearing.

As the parties proceeded to hearing, both the current and former President of Local 1578 testified in favor of Local 1578. In response, Mr. McGill effectively cross-examined the City’s former Labor Negotiator and got her to admit that the City has never treated assignments to the paramedic program as a promotion in the past, and that it had traditionally been a bonus position. After the testimony of several witnesses, the administrative law judge issued a decision finding in favor of Local 1578.

The judge found that the City’s actions “constitutes a clear departure from the plain meaning” of the MOU, and alternatively, “the City’s actions were a new and novel application of these terms.” The judge concluded that “the City deviated from the status quo [and made an unlawful unilateral change in working conditions] by expressly applying the terms” of the MOU at issue in a new way. The critical takeaway here is to understand that even though an MOU provision may not change, if an employer changes the manner in which they are interpreting and applying that provision, that too is a negotiable matter. Unfortunately for the City of Alhambra, it had to learn that the hard way.

This decision, once finalized, will require the City to cease and desist from applying its new interpretation of anniversary dates and will require the City to maintain the status quo until such time as it negotiates a change with the Local. In addition, the City will be required to pay back to any employee it took money from, or withheld a step increase from, based upon its unlawful reliance on this new change.

Local 1578 is ecstatic about the win and would like to thank the Ferrone Law Group and Attorney Michael McGill for their unwavering support of public safety and their zealous advocacy of the first responders.

About the Author: Michael A. McGill is a Partner with the Ferrone Law Group and has represented Public Safety Associations and their Members in all Labor and Employment matters for over 20 years. Mr. McGill has litigated virtually every state or federal law applicable to public safety, and has successfully taken two cases from inception to the United States Supreme Court.

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