Minnesota Supreme Court Limits Right Of Public Employers To Restructure Operations When Doing So Threatens Elimination Of Union

In the recent case of Firefighters Union Local 4725 v. City of Brainerd, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that despite a provision in the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA) that allows public employers to restructure their operations without an obligation "to meet and negotiate on matters of inherent managerial policy," a restructuring that has the effect of eliminating the union or all union positions is prohibited because it violates PELRA's "unfair labor practices" provisions.

The case arises out of the City of Brainerd's reaction to increased firefighting expenses and its decision to convert its forces from a fulltime firefighting force to paid on-call firefighters, who receive nominal compensation and limited benefits. After wrestling with the decision of whether to restructure its firefighting force for several years, the City decided to restructure its fire department to save money. The Local vigorously opposed this restructuring because the change eliminated the positions of all of the Local's union members.

The trial court determined that the City could exercise its discretion in this manner without running afoul of PELRA, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

The Minnesota Supreme Court's decision affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, but used a different rationale: the provisions relating to "inherent managerial policy" merely state when the employer and Local were required to negotiate, but those activities could still be prohibited by the "unfair labor practices" protections found elsewhere in PELRA. Chief Justice Gildea, in a dissent joined by Justice Anderson, would have reconciled the provisions of PELRA by examining the City's motivation in adopting a restructuring that had the effect of eliminating all union positions.

In this case, the City's actions had the practical effect of totally eliminating the local union, but the decision in Firefighter's Union Local 4725 v. City of Brainerd may have broad implications related to other managerial decisions, decisions which do not eliminate all positions and which were formerly considered exempt from unfair labor practice claims.

If you have a concerns or questions regarding labor issues, union activity, or employment matters in general please contact the knowledgeable attorneys at Quinlivan & Hughes. To speak with one of our attorneys, call us at 320-200-4928. You can also contact us online.

Established more than 95 years ago, Quinlivan & Hughes ranks among the oldest and largest law practices in Central Minnesota. The full-service law firm has growing legal teams in the areas of employment law, business law, government law, insurance defense, trust and estate planning, and general litigation. Learn more at Quinlivan.com.

 

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