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Tuesday, January 25, 2011 6:13 PM

CA Court Rules Cities Can Unilaterally Lay Off Workers in Times of Financial Adversity; How to Protect the Workload and Safety of Remaining Workforce

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Today, the California Supreme court upheld a lower court ruling that allows cities in distress to fire union workers regardless of contractual obligation.

This is a victory for justice and common sense. My only question is "what took so long". The case in question involves the city of Richmond's decision in 2003.

Please consider Calif. high court sides with Richmond on layoffs

Cities and counties don't have to consult with unions before deciding to lay off workers to save money, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The court unanimously upheld Richmond's decision to eliminate 18 of its 90 firefighting jobs in 2003, when the city said it faced potential bankruptcy.

The International Association of Fire Fighters argued that the city could have avoided layoffs by cutting costs in other areas, and filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

The board said decisions to cut the workforce for financial reasons are not subject to collective bargaining, and the court agreed.

Under California law, "a local public entity that is faced with a decline in revenues or other financial adversity may unilaterally decide to lay off some of its employees," Justice Joyce Kennard said in the ruling, which upheld lower-court decisions.
Thoughts on Financial Adversity

The term "Financial Adversity" is very broad and can mean a wide variety of things. I suggest cities use the term liberally.

Please note that the court further ruled that a "government employer must negotiate over the implementation of the decision, including the number of employees to be laid off, the timing, and the effect on the workload and safety of the remaining employees."

Maintaining the Safety of Public Union Workers is Crucial

I agree with the court that we should not put the safety of the remaining employees at risk. Nor should the safety of the public be put at risk.

When it comes to ensuring the safety of the remaining employees, there are logical steps cities must take. Here is my carefully considered proposal:

For the purposeful benefit of the public union employees, I suggest cities replace fired union workers with non-union workers, as appropriate, to make sure the safety of the workers and the public is maintained.

Unfortunately, my proposal to protect the safety of union employees adds costs to the proposal. To the extent those costs cause further "financial adversity", the number of layoffs needed to protect the safety of the workers will go up as a result.

Thus, all things considered, the correct approach for cities is to figure out how many workers are needed to preserve safety, how much costs have to be reduced to handle the "financial adversity" then in accordance with terms specified by the court, do as much as needed to handle both the adversity and safety issues.

For example, in the case of police, I am quite certain that the local sheriffs' association can provide fill-in support, as necessary, to handle any safety issues that arise.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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