Almanac

News - August 10, 2011

Judge may rule on Atherton layoffs this week

by Sandy Brundage

After weeks of waiting, the future employment of 11 Atherton employees may be decided in San Mateo County Superior Court on Thursday, Aug. 11.

The town of Atherton had planned to lay off six employees on July 15 as part of its strategy to outsource the building and planning departments. In addition to those six layoffs, one employee retired and another resigned, while five public works maintenance employees received job extensions through the end of August.

But the layoffs were challenged in court by Teamsters Union Local 856 under a section of state government code that the union says makes it illegal for the town to outsource the jobs it has targeted, according to union spokesman Peter Finn. The court granted a temporary restraining order last month, blocking the layoffs until Thursday's hearing.

A similar case in Orange County Superior Court led to a preliminary injunction in July against outsourcing of city services in Costa Mesa. According to the firm representing the employee union in that case, the lawsuit cited California Government Codes 37103 and 53060, which it interprets as prohibiting the use of private contractors for general services performed satisfactorily by city employees.

Those are the same government code sections cited in the Atherton lawsuit. But City Attorney Bill Conners said the two cases don't have much in common, primarily because the Teamsters union signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that the city could lay off employees and eliminate positions when necessary due to economic conditions. In the Costa Mesa case, he said, the city outsourced without first trying to negotiate, treating it as a management right.

"(The Teamsters) contracted away these rights and now they want to litigate. To your point, we have negotiated the impacts of layoffs and the fact that we intend to contract out. The Union has not presented any financially viable alternative to outsourcing, so the Town has no other viable option," Mr. Conners wrote in an email to the Almanac.

According to court documents, the union argues that the MOU expired on June 30. Atherton's legal defense contends in its filing that the agreement is still in effect despite the expiration date, because no new contract has been put in place yet.

Possible outcomes for Thursday's hearing include the judge granting a permanent restraining order, as requested by the union, or lifting the temporary injunction to allow the layoffs to proceed, as the town asked.

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