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Florida City Can't Use Financial Urgency To Change Union Deal

 

Reprinted from Law360.com

A Florida appeals court on Wednesday revived a firefighters union's unfair labor practice charge against the city of Hollywood, Fla., ruling that the city's declaration of a “financial urgency” did not authorize unilateral changes to a collective bargaining agreement.

Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal said that the Public Employees Relations Commission should not have dismissed Hollywood Fire Fighters Local 1375's unfair labor practice charge against the city, which, facing budget shortfalls in 2011 and 2012, made changes to the labor agreement after the parties reached an impasse in negotiations.

The Fourth District said that the issue of a governmental entity's ability to unilaterally change a bargaining agreement to address a revenue shortfall had already come before the Florida Supreme Court in the 1993 case of Chiles v. United Faculty of Florida.

In that case, the high court ruled that the legislature had to demonstrate a serious fiscal emergency and show that there were no other reasonable alternatives and the funds were available from no other sources before it could violate the unions' constitutional right to collectively bargain.

The Fourth District's decision is in direct conflict with the First District's ruling in Headley v. City of Miami, in which the First District had determined that the Chiles decision did not require a governmental entity to demonstrate that funds were not available from any other source.

“District courts cannot alter the holding of Chiles with respect to the authority of the government to impair a contract and violate the union's right to collectively bargain,” the Fourth District said.

At issue is a collective bargaining agreement that took effect in October 2009 and expired in September 2012, according to the opinion.

Hollywood learned in early 2011 that it would have a general fund shortfall of $8.6 million for fiscal year 2011 and a $25 million shortfall for the following year. The city implemented cuts to operating expenses, deferring capital improvement projects and asking vendors to lower their prices, according to the opinion.

The city declared a financial urgency for both fiscal years 2011 and 2012 and at a June 2011 meeting, proposed to the firefighters union a wage reduction and an increase in the length of the workweek.

An impasse was declared, and at a city commission meeting a few days later, the city unilaterally imposed the proposed wage and workweek changes for the 2011 fiscal year and in addition sought health insurance and pension reductions for the following year, according to the opinion.

The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against Hollywood that was later dismissed by the PERC.

The union is represented by Noah Scott Warman of Sugarman & Susskind PA.

The city is represented by David C. Miller, Denise M. Heekin and James C. Crosland of
Bryant Miller Olive PA and the Law Offices of Paul T. Ryder Jr. PA.

The case is Hollywood Fire Fighters, Local 1375, IAFF Inc. v. City of Hollywood, case number 4D12-2861, in the Florida District Court of Appeal of the Fourth District.

--Editing by Andrew Park.


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