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SAD 3 Education Association v. RSU 3 Board of Directors

Supreme Court of Maine

March 1, 2018

SAD 3 EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
v.
RSU 3 BOARD OF DIRECTORS et al.

          Argued: October 11, 2017

          Andrew T. Mason, Esq. (orally), Maine Education Association, Augusta, for appellant SAD 3 Education Association

          S. Campbell Badger, Esq. (orally), and Laurel A.V. McClead, Esq., Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, PA, Portland, for appellee RSU 3 Board of Directors

          Lisa Copenhaver, Esq. (orally), Maine Labor Relations Board, Augusta, for appellee Maine Labor Relations Board

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., [*] and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          REPORTER OF DECISIONS

          HUMPHREY, J.

         [¶1] School Administrative District 3 Education Association MEA/NEA (the Association) appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Kennebec County, Murphy, J.) on consolidated Rule 8OC appeals from the decision of the Maine Labor Relations Board (MLRB) on the Association's prohibited practice complaint.[1] The Association argues that the MLRB erred when it held that the 120-day notice provision in 26 M.R.S. §965(1) (2017) applies to the request for impact bargaining in this case. We disagree and affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Regional School Unit 3 (RSU 3) is a rural school district serving towns that span a large geographic area in Waldo County. The Board of Directors of RSU 3 (the School Board) is a public employer as defined in 26 M.R.S. § 962(7) (2017). The Association is the recognized bargaining agent within the meaning of 26 M.R.S. § 962(2) (2017) for employees of the School Board, including classroom teachers.

         [¶3] At the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, RSU 3 transitioned from a system of double bus runs to transport the students in the school district to a system of single bus runs. This cost-saving measure resulted in students at the outlying elementary schools being dropped off at school earlier in the morning and picked up later in the afternoon than they had been under the prior system. In order to accommodate this change, teachers at the outlying schools had to work longer hours than their colleagues at other schools in the district. The School Board and the Association agreed to discuss the effects of the change after the system of single bus runs was implemented.

         [¶4] In early January 2013, the Association informed the School Board of its demand to enter into "impact bargaining"[2] regarding the change in working conditions due to the transition to the system of single bus runs.[3] The School Board and the Association engaged in impact bargaining over the change in working conditions for the affected teachers on three occasions in February, March, and April 2013. During these bargaining sessions, the Association and the School Board discussed compensation for the affected teachers, but the School Board opposed that approach.[4] By the end of the third meeting, the parties had yet to come to an agreement.

         [¶5] After the start of the new school year, the Association submitted a proposal to the School Board that included a request for $1, 500 in compensation for each of the affected teachers. The School Board rejected the Association's proposal, and the Association filed a request for mediation with the MLRB in December 2013.

         [¶6] Before the mediation took place, the Association requested to collectively bargain a successor contract between it and the School Board because the parties' existing contract was set to expire in August 2014. During the negotiations for the successor contract, the parties agreed on uniform working hours for teachers throughout the district, taking into account the different schedules that resulted from the system of single bus runs. The successor contract, which covered the period from September 1, 2014, to August 31, 2017, was signed on April 1, 2014.

         [¶7] The parties engaged in mediation sessions regarding the impact bargaining matter on April 8 and May 7, 2014, but failed to come to an agreement. On July 3, 2014, the Association filed a request for fact-finding with the MLRB and the School Board. The Executive Director of the MLRB requested that the parties select their representatives for a fact-finding panel, but only the Association responded to this request. In October 2014, the School Board communicated to the Association and the MLRB that it was unwilling to participate in fact-finding for the impact bargaining matter. In January 2015, the Executive Director of the MLRB informed the parties that, in light of the School Board's October letter, he would not schedule a fact-finding proceeding.

         [¶8] Pursuant to the Municipal Public Employees Labor Relations Law (MPELRL), the Association filed a prohibited practice complaint with the MLRB against the School Board, see 26 M.R.S. § 968(5) (2017), alleging that the School Board violated 26 M.R.S. § 964(1)(E) (2017) and § 965(1) when it refused to participate in mediation and fact-finding procedures with respect to the effect of the new bus system. In its answer, the School Board raised a number of defenses, including that the Association failed to provide the School Board with notice "at least 120 days before the conclusion of the current fiscal operating budget" that it intended to negotiate matters involving the appropriation of money during the impact bargaining sessions, as required by 26 M.R.S. §965(1).

         [¶9] In its decision, the MLRB rejected all of the School Board's affirmative defenses except for the alleged violation of the 120-day notice provision. The MLRB determined that the Association failed to comply with the 120-day requirement because aspects of the impact bargaining involved potential appropriations of money, and concluded that

the School Board was not legally obligated to bargain over matters requiring the appropriation of money. The failure of the Association to provide the 120-day notice had no impact, however, on the School Board's legal obligation to continue bargaining over non-monetary issues. Consequently, to the extent that the School Board has refused to participate in fact finding over non-monetary issues, it has violated §965(1)(E).[5]

         [¶10] Both parties appealed to the Superior Court pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80C and 26 M.R.S. § 968(5)(F) (2017). The School Board challenged the MLRB's conclusion that it violated 26 M.R.S. § 964(1)(E) and § 965(1) by failing to participate in fact-finding concerning the impact of the new busing system. The Association challenged the MLRB's determination that it was required to provide a ...


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