International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 188, AFL-CIO v. PERB (2009) __ Cal.App.4th __. (Challenge to City of Richmond (2004) PERB Decision No. 1720-M.)
Facing significant economic constraints, in late 2003 the City of Richmond decided to lay off 78 city employees, including 18 firefighters. The firefighter’s union, Local 188, made a request to bargain over the City’s decision to lay off firefighters but failed to request to bargain the effects of the layoff decision. When the City declined to bargain over the decision, Local 188 responded by filing an unfair practice charge with PERB, asserting that the reduced staffing level presented a threat to employee safety and affected workload, and therefore the layoff decision itself was subject to bargaining. A PERB regional attorney dismissed that aspect of the unfair practice charge, holding that the decision to lay off personnel is not within the scope of bargaining. The regional attorney further held that while the effects of such a decision are subject to bargaining, Local 188 never demanded to bargain over effects. On appeal, PERB sustained the dismissal, declining to issue a complaint that would have sent the matter to a full hearing. Local 188 then sought to compel PERB to issue a complaint.
The most significant facet of the court’s opinion is its interpretation of the California Supreme Court’s decision in Firefighters Union v. City of Vallejo (1974) 12 Cal.3d 608. The Vallejo Court held that due to the dangerous nature of firefighting, “to the extent  that the decision to lay off some employees affects the workload and safety of the remaining workers, it is subject to bargaining . . .” Vallejo, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 622. Local 188 argued that the Vallejo decision thus requires public employers to bargain over firefighter staffing, meaning that the employer cannot lay off firefighter personnel unless and until it bargains fully over that decision – an interpretation that would cause extensive delays before layoffs could be implemented, and that would intrude on the basic management prerogative of determining the necessity for layoffs. Rejecting Local 188’s argument, the court of appeal held that, under Vallejo, the decision to reduce staffing levels through layoffs is a managerial prerogative and not subject to bargaining. The court further confirmed that the Union may bargain over residual safety and workload issues which occur for the “remaining employees” after the reduction in staffing is achieved.
This decision should finally bring an end to the 30-year debate over the meaning of the Vallejo decision. For years, unions – particularly firefighters – have asserted that layoffs are negotiable if the workload and safety of remaining employees is affected. In contrast, management has always interpreted Vallejo to mean that only the effects of a layoff decision are negotiable (e.g. safety and workload) and that the layoff decision itself remains a management right. Here, the court unequivacally held that layoffs decision are a management right. Hopefully end of the story.