More Re: Committee Wins
Here’s the decision from Superior Court Justice Silverstein: PDF.
About halfway through the document, it appears that Silverstein would draw his lines very tightly around his ruling in favor of the school committee:
Under the language of § 16-2-9 a school committee must bargain in good faith with certified public school teachers in accordance with Title 28 and honor current collective bargaining agreements. However, under a narrow set of circumstances, when such collective bargaining negotiations have reached an impasse and there is no longer a valid collective bargaining agreement, a school committee must comply with the mandate in subsection (d) and avoid maintaining a school budget that results in debt.
However, in most of the substantive ways in which Anchor Rising readers might want a little bit of breadth to the ruling, they won’t be disappointed. For one, the judge determined that a never-ending contract is not implied by existing laws (citations deleted):
Although the Union contends that the Committee was under a statutory duty to continue to adhere to the terms and conditions of the expired CBA until a successor agreement was realized, the Court disagrees. Title 28 does not contain such a mandate pertaining to school teachers’ labor contracts, and in fact under § 28-9.3-4, “no contract shall exceed the term of three (3) years.” Further, when previously discussing the effect of an expired contract this Court found it to be no longer valid and cited to Providence Teachers Union v. Providence School Bd., City of Cranston v. Teamsters Local 251, In Providence Teachers, when discussing the effect of a general arbitration clause in an expired contract, the Court stated that “[a]n expired contract has by its own terms released all its parties from their respective contractual obligations, except obligations already fixed under the contract but as yet unsatisfied.” Here, the CBA by its terms expired prior to the implementation of the disputed salary and benefits changes. Therefore, the Court finds that the CBA was no longer binding and the Committee did not “abrogate any agreement reached by collective bargaining.”
And when a school committee finds itself facing a budgetary shortfall (determined as a measure of its best knowledge on the date that it takes action), and when the contract has expired, employees don’t have an overriding claim to district money beyond other line items under the committee’s control (citations deleted):
The Union has continually argued that there were other avenues that the Committee could have taken to reduce the FY 09 deficit. However, this Court remains mindful that under § 16-2-9 the Committee is vested with the entire care, control, and management of the interests of the East Providence public schools. Further, under the same provision the Committee has both the power and the duty to adopt a school budget. Accordingly, this Court will not discuss whether the changes to the teachers’ salary and benefits were the only or even the best possible way to comply with the balanced budget mandate of § 16-2-9(d). However, this Court does note that the parties stipulated that the teachers’ salaries and benefits consumed 63% of the Committee’s total revenue from all sources for FY 09. Therefore, given the mandate in § 16-2-9(d) that a school committee “shall be responsible for maintaining a school budget which does not result in a debt” and the evidence before this Court that the Committee was, in fact, facing a debt for FY 09, this Court declares that the Committee acted lawfully under Title 16 by implementing the teachers’ salary and benefit changes.
Lastly, Siverstein found that the State Labor Relations Board cannot, in effect, make law to suit its rulings (citations deleted):
The Court is mindful that when deciding such questions, the SLRB is empowered under § 28-7-22 to issue orders and award the relief it deems to be appropriate. However, our Supreme Court has cautioned that “[n]o state official by administrative action can affect the substantive rights of parties as they have been set forth by an affirmative act of the general assembly.” Further, as indicated supra, administrative agencies are bound by statutory schemes and a decision or award is invalid if the decision or award contravenes a statutory scheme.