Teacher Salary Dispute Requires Grievance Arbitration, Not Court Action, To Address Claim Of Education Code Violation

Whenever a union and a public school employer dispute the implementation of a salary agreement, it may not be prudent to rush off to court; indeed, it’s probably best to first consult the parties’ collective bargaining agreement to see if the matter should be resolved under an agreed-upon grievance procedure.

In California Teacher Association v. Governing Board, a pay dispute in Salinas boiled over into a court suit.  The teachers union claimed that the District’s implementation of a salary differential (created by an agreement freezing pay for some employees while allowing others to advance) ran afoul of section 45028 of the California Education Code, which in generally mandates equal salaries based on common years of experience and training.

The District demurred to the complaint on the ground that the employees had failed to exhaust the contractual grievance procedure. On appeal, the teachers argued that their suit was aimed at enforcing a statute (section 45028) rather than a collective bargaining agreement. However, the court of appeal rejected the argument, ruling that the grievance procedure was susceptible of a construction that would cover the parties’ dispute. In so holding, the court noted that arbitrators regularly are called upon to interpret statutes and that, in this case, the issue of salaries and how they were to be calculated, was a matter expressly left to the parties for collective bargaining. Thus, the court said that “the parties’ collective bargaining agreement required the unions to exhaust their internal grievance/arbitration procedures before resorting to the courts.”

For your convenience, a complete copy of the court’s opinion is attached.

UPDATE:  On November 11, 2010, the California Supreme Court granted review in this case.  For that reason, the court of appeal opinion cannot be cited as authority and we alert clients and interested parties to keep an eye on this case as the state high court conducts review. We will report on the final decision once it has been issued. The California Supreme Court case number is S185651.

At Slote & Links we regularly advise school employers and employee unions about various legal issues that arise in the workplace, whether under the Labor Code, the Education Code, collective bargaining agreements, or otherwise. Feel free to contact us if you need assistance in this area.

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