Castaic Union School District (2010) PERB Decision No. A384E (Issued on 8/09/10)
In an unexpected decision, PERB has held that school district employees in part-time playground positions, also referred to as “noon-duty aides,” who do not otherwise hold a position in the classified service, are not covered by the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA). This decision overturns the Board’s holding in Pittsburg Unified School District (1976) EERB Decision No. 3 (“Pittsburg”). What is significant is that the Pittsburg decision has been binding precedent for over 30 years; indeed it was the third decision ever issued by PERB (then known as EERB).
The Board based its decision on the language of Education Code section 45103, subdivision (b)(4), which states:
Part-time playground positions shall not be a part of the classified service, where the employee is not otherwise employed in a classified position. Part-time playground positions shall be considered a part of the classified service when the employee in the position also works in the same school district in a classified position.
Then Board then compared Education Code section 45103 with Government Code section 3540.1, subdivision (e), which states:
“Exclusive representative means the employee organization recognized or certified as the exclusive negotiating representative of certificated or classified employees in an appropriate unit of a public school employer.”
The Board interpreted the “plain language of the statute to mean that an exclusive representative may only represent a bargaining unit of certificated or classified employees and, therefore, cannot represent employees who do not fall into one of those two categories.” According to the Board, the definition of “exclusive representative” limits the definition of “public school employee” to certificated or classified employees. Thus, part-time playground employees are not considered “employees” for purposes of EERA.
As a result of the Board’s holding, the petition in this case to add part-time playground positions to an existing unit was dismissed. However, in the interesting move, PERB stated that it would only apply the holding in this case prospectively. Specifically, the Board stated that:
“We recognize that classified bargaining units may currently exist which include parttime playground positions. Because of the potential disruption to stable employer-employee relations that would result from application of this decision to such units, PERB will only apply this decision prospectively. (Palo Alto Unified School District, et al. (1979) PERB Decision No. 84; Peralta Community College District (197 8) PERB Decision No. 77.) Consequently, this decision does not affect existing units that include part-time playground positions.”
Member Wesley dissented from the Board’s decision that EERA does not cover part-time playground positions. Member Wesley argued that the definition of “employee” under EERA does not limit it to classified or certificated employees. Further, Member Wesley asserted that being excluded from the classified service has little bearing on whether an employee should be covered by EERA, as the purposes of the two statutory sections are different.
- It is fairly rare for the Board to overturn one of its prior decisions. It probably occurs once a year on average; perhaps a little more when there is a change of Governor. However, I can’t remember the Board ever overturning a decision as old as Pittsburg. As mentioned above, Pittsburg has been around for over 30 years and it was only the third decision ever issued by the Board. In terms of the merits of the decision, I think both sides have valid points. But given how long Pittsburgh has been around, I’m sure CSEA will appeal this case. It will be interesting to see how the Court rules.
- For me, the really interesting portion of this case was the Board’s guidance on how this decision will be applied in the future. The Board acknowledged that many districts have part-time playground positions in bargaining units and that this decision could cause substantial disruption to those districts and employees. Therefore, the Board stated that it would only apply this decision prospectively. However, can the Board do that? I personally think it’s questionable. Here, the Board said that the plain language of the statute required that it hold that part-time playground employees are not covered by EERA. However, PERB cited to a couple of prior cases where it declined to apply a statutory interpretation retrospectively where such an application would “cause disruption and instability.” I think those prior decisions are distinguishable. But in its basic form, the legal question is this: Can an administrative agency charged with enforcing a statute decide not to enforce the plain language of the statute because it would cause disruption and instability? I believe the answer is no; such a decision is one for the Legislature. My view is that if PERB says that under the plain language of EERA that these positions are not covered, it has no choice but to enforce that interpretation. Any “disruption or instability” in this situation is caused by the language of the statute, which is something for the Legislature to address. I certainly understand why PERB only wants to apply this holding prospectively, I just don’t know that it can do that when it says that the language of the statute is plain and clear.