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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides dispute re teachers' collective bargaining

In Jay Classroom Teachers Association v. Jay School Corporation and Indiana Education Employment Relations Board, a 12-page, 4-1 opinion, Chief Justice Rush writes:

In 2011, our Legislature made significant amendments to statutes addressing collective bargaining for teachers and their employers. Pursuant to these amendments, when the parties fail to reach a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) regarding salaries, wages, and related fringe benefits, the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board (“IEERB”) appoints a mediator. If mediation also fails to produce a CBA, the parties must exchange their last best offers (“LBOs”). The IEERB then appoints a factfinder, who considers certain statutory factors—such as whether an LBO will cause the school corporation to engage in deficit financing—and accordingly selects which side’s LBO to adopt as the CBA for that year. The adopted LBO may not include a provision that conflicts with state or federal law, and a party may appeal the factfinder’s decision to the IEERB.

Here, a teachers association appealed a factfinder’s decision to adopt the school’s LBO. The IEERB affirmed the factfinder, approving a contract provision allowing a superintendent to place teachers hired mid-school-year on any line of an established, bargained-for salary scale. In so doing, the IEERB rejected the teachers association’s claim that the salary flexibility provision unlawfully gave the superintendent unilateral and unfettered discretion over late-hires’ salaries, thereby conflicting with the association’s statutory right to bargain collectively to establish salaries. Given the deferential standard of review afforded to agency action, we conclude the IEERB’s affirmance was lawful. We find that the adopted LBO, including the salary flexibility provision, was, in fact, collectively bargained and that important checks limited the superintendent’s discretion. * * *

The Court of Appeals
agreed with the Association and reversed the trial court, holding the salary flexibility provision “unambiguously, impermissibly conflicts with the Association’s statutory right to collectively bargain to establish salaries.” Id. The School and the IEERB sought transfer, which we granted, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A). * * *

We hold the Association failed to meet its burden under the AOPA, as it did not show that the IEERB’s decision adopting the School’s LBO was invalid. Rather, we defer to the IEERB’s conclusion that the salary flexibility provision was not unlawful, noting both that the provision in question was collectively bargained and that important checks limited the superintendent’s discretion in establishing late-hires’ salaries. Consequently, we affirm the trial court.

David, Massa, and Slaughter, JJ., concur.
Rucker, J., dissents with separate opinion. [that reads in full] I respectfully dissent. Indiana Code section 20-29-4-1 provides in relevant part: “School employees may . . . participate in collective bargaining with school employers through representatives of their own choosing . . . to establish, maintain, or improve salaries, wages, salary and wage related fringe benefits . . . .” And Indiana Code section 20-29-6-2(a)(2) provides in relevant part: “Any contract may not include provisions that conflict with . . . school employee rights set forth in IC 20-29-4-1 . . . .” As the Court of Appeals points out the LBO provision authorizing the Superintendent to determine unilaterally the salary of teachers hired after the school year begins “unambiguously, impermissibly conflicts with the Association’s statutory right to collectively bargain to establish salaries under Section 20-29-4-1 and thus violates Section 20-29-6-2(a)(2).” Jay Classroom Teachers Ass’n v. Jay Sch. Corp., 45 N.E.3d 1217, 1226-27 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015). I agree and would thus join my Court of Appeals colleagues in reversing the judgment of the trial court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 21, 2016 01:12 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions