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Commissioner of Administration and Finance v. Commonwealth Employment Relations Board

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

May 12, 2017

COMMISSIONER OF ADMINISTRATION AND FINANCE
v.
COMMONWEALTH EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS BOARD & another.[1]

          Heard: January 5, 2017.

         Appeal from a decision of the Division of Labor Relations.

         The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          Robert L. Quinan, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, for the plaintiff.

          T. Jane Gabriel for the defendant. Alan H. Shapiro (John M. Becker also present) for the intervener. Mathew D. Jones, for Massachusetts Teachers Association, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          LOWY, J.

         In June, 2010, near the height of the global economic downturn that became known as the Great Recession, the Secretary of the Executive Office of Administration and Finance (Secretary) submitted to the Legislature a request for an appropriation to fund collective bargaining agreements between the Commonwealth and two public employee unions reached more than thirteen months earlier. In the letter containing the request, the Secretary informed the Legislature that several similar requests for salary increases had been rejected by the Legislature; that attempts to renegotiate the agreements with the unions had failed; and that approval of the request would require renegotiating several other collective bargaining agreements that the Legislature had already approved.

         The unions both filed a charge of prohibited practice with the Department of Labor Relations (department), arguing, in essence, that the letter was a violation of the Commonwealth's purported duty to support an appropriation's request pursuant to G. L. c. 150E, § 7 (b), and also that the letter constituted a failure to bargain in good faith, in violation of G. L. c. 150E, § 10 (a.) (5) . In January, 2014, a hearing officer with the department agreed with the unions and found that the Commonwealth had violated its § 7 (b) duty and had committed a prohibited practice under § 10 (a.) (5) by failing to bargain in good faith. The Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (board)[2] affirmed, the Commonwealth appealed from the decision, and we transferred the case to this court on our own motion.

         We reverse the board's decision and conclude that the Secretary's inclusion of information about the anticipated fiscal effects of a legislative decision to fund the collective bargaining agreements in his request for an appropriation did not violate § 7 (b) or constitute a prohibited practice.

         Background.

         The facts of this case are not in dispute. In April, 2009, the Commonwealth, represented by the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, and the Coalition of Public Safety (COPS) entered into collective bargaining agreements for the periods of July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, and July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2013 (2010-2013 agreement). The 2010-2013 agreement called for annual salary increases of one per cent, three per cent, and three per cent, respectively, over the three years it covered. The Commonwealth had also entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union (MCOFU) that covered the same period as the COPS 2010-2013 agreement and that also contained cost items that required appropriation.

         In June, 2009, then Governor Deval Patrick submitted a revised appropriation recommendation to both houses of the General Court for fiscal year 2010 (July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010). In his accompanying message, the Governor estimated that there would be about $1.5 billion less in revenue compared with earlier projections because "Massachusetts continue[d] to experience the effects of a global economic downturn unseen since the Great Depression."

         In June, 2010, the Secretary[3] submitted the cost items for both of the 2010-2013 agreements to the Legislature for funding pursuant to his obligation under § 7 (b). In the letter that accompanied the request, the Secretary, addressing the respective chairs of the committees on ways and means of the Senate and House of Representatives, wrote:

"In addition to previous requests, I am fulfilling my statutory obligation to ask your consideration of the attached additional collective bargaining items in Section 2 of H.2, the Governor's fiscal year 2011 budget proposal. These items fund the collective bargaining agreements negotiated some time ago with [MCOFU] (Unit 4) and [COPS] (Unit 5). We are submitting them now because their costs first occur in fiscal year 2011.
"These items provide for collective bargaining salary increases similar to contracts that were not funded during calendar year 2009. We have worked with the MCOFU and COPS leadership to reach agreement on contracts similar to those signed by other unions for this fiscal year and have failed to reach an agreement. Funding of these items will trigger a reopener in collective bargaining agreements that the Legislature recently did fund only because they contained delays in the salary increases."

         The Legislature did not appropriate funds in fiscal year 2011 for the cost items contained in the 2010-2013 agreements. Since that time COPS and the Commonwealth have entered into two successor agreements -- one of which covered the 2010-2013 period -- that were fully funded by the Legislature. The successor agreement covering the 2010-2013 period, however, resulted in the delay of each of the wage increases by one year.

         About one week after the Secretary's June, 2010, request letter, COPS filed a charge of prohibited practice with the department, alleging that the Commonwealth failed to bargain in good faith, as required by § 10 (a.) (5), because the Secretary's letter did not support the 2010-2013 agreement.[4] A complaint was issued following the department's investigation. The parties waived a hearing and submitted the case to the hearing officer on a stipulated record.

         In January, 2014, the hearing officer found that the Commonwealth had violated the law because it had refused "to take all necessary and appropriate steps to support the collective bargaining agreement." The hearing officer ordered the Commonwealth to "[s]ubmit to the Legislature a request for an appropriation to fund the cost ...


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