School District Not Always Required To Arbitrate Over Charter Conversion Of School, Depending on Contract Language and Remedies Proposed
In a possible setback to unions’ ability to challenge privatization of public schools, the California Supreme Court held that Los Angeles Unified School District is not required to arbitrate over the charter conversion of a school if it is determined that the collective bargaining provisions being enforced by the employees’ union are in direct conflict with the California Education Code. Under the Education Code, an arbitrator has no authority to deny or revoke a school charter. If a court is asked to compel arbitration of a collective bargaining provision that clearly directly conflicts with the Education Code, it should deny the petition to compel arbitration.
However, as noted by the California Court of Appeal, this decision conflicts with the federal and state policy that a court's function when deciding a petition to compel arbitration (as in this case) is limited to determining whether there was a valid arbitration agreement that has not been waived, which was the case here. But for the moment, in this case at least, the California Supreme Court disagrees.
The union’s grievance alleged that the District had violated the CBA by failing (1) to present the complete charter to employees; (2) to give affected employees and the community a reasonable opportunity to review and discuss the plan; (3) to give the union a copy of the proposed charter for review; and (4) to clearly and fully disclose the conditions of employment within the charter school. The Court held that, while union representation and collective bargaining do have a place in charter schools, the express approval or denial of a charter petition may not be controlled by a collective bargaining agreement.
But the battle is not over -- the Court left open the question of whether the collective bargaining provisions cited in the union’s grievance are necessarily in conflict with the Education Code. A collective bargaining provision does not conflict with the Education Code if its enforcement would neither control the approval or denial of a charter petition nor delay or obstruct the charter petition approval process. The Supreme Court ordered the lower trial court to identify which collective bargaining provisions were at issue in the grievance and to determine whether their enforcement would set aside, annul, or replace provisions of the Education Code. It remains to be seen in this case just what is arbitrable and what is not.
By Russ Naymark