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Roma v. Ruffo, 1998 N.Y. Int. 0135 (Nov. 18, 1998).

TAYLOR LAW - COLLECTIVE BARGAINING - PERB


ISSUE & DISPOSITION

Issue

Whether the State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has exclusive jurisdiction over an employee complaint regarding an unilateral change in a term and condition of employment which is expressly covered in its collective bargaining agreement with the employer.

Disposition

No.  PERB does not have exclusive jurisdiction over the parties' dispute when the term or condition of employment that is in contention was expressly provided for in the parties' collective bargaining agreement.

SUMMARY

On May 19, 1995, the school district notified the school matrons of the Susquehanna Valley Central School District that their hours were being reduced from eight to six hours per day.  The matrons, following the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, filed a grievance claiming that the school district could not unilaterally change the matrons' working hours. The school district and matrons participated in each stage of the grievance proceeding.  After the matrons' claim was rejected at each stage they filed suit with the Supreme Court challenging the school board's final determination that the school district had not violated the collective bargaining agreement.  The Supreme Court found that the school district had violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement which restricted them from unilaterally changing the daily working hours of the matrons.  On appeal, a majority of the Appellate Division agreed with the school district's argument that PERB had exclusive jurisdiction over the matter in dispute.  The Court of Appeals took this case as of right based on the dissent of two Justices at the Appellate Division.

The Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division, holding that the parties' dispute was not within the exclusive jurisdiction of PERB for two reasons.  First, once the parties negotiated to the point of reaching an agreement, the parties had met their statutory duty to bargain in good faith making the claim before the court a matter of basic contract law.  Second, PERB in previous cases had acknowledged that a dispute is outside its jurisdiction when the dispute is over an issue that is expressly covered and settled in the parties' collective bargaining agreement.  The Court of Appeals reinstated the Supreme Court's order to restore the matrons to full time working hours, salary, and benefits.


Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.