Board: Written Letter Constituted Declaration of Impasse

City of Salinas (2017) PERB Order No. Ad-457-M (Issued on 1/4/18)

One of the triggers for requesting factfinding under the MMBA is a “written notice of a declaration of impasse.” (Gov. Code §3505.4.) The issue in this case was whether a letter from a City stating that it had met its obligations to meet and confer with the union—but never uses the term “impasse”—nevertheless constitutes a written declaration of impasse under the MMBA. The Office of the General Counsel held that such a letter did not constitute a declaration of impasse.  The Board reversed.

The Board held that the meaning of the City’s letter was clear: that the City believed it had fulfilled its obligation to meet and confer because the parties were at a point where continued negotiations would be futile. The Board also noted that the City did not respond to the union’s request for clarification on whether it had declared impasse. The Board conceded that the City’s letter would “undoubtedly be clearer” if it used the term “impasse.” But the Board held that PERB looks at the substance of a party’s words, not their form, to determine their legal effect. Here, under these facts, the Board held that the City’s letter constituted a written declaration of impasse even though it did not use that term.

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