Published Date Written by Michael KitchCONCORD — The New Hampshire Supreme Court last week unanimously denied the appeal of the Laconia Patrolman Association (LPA) of the ruling of the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) that absolved the Police Commission of engaging in unfair practices in the course of contract negotiations in 2010.
Prior to the exportation of collective bargaining agreement in June 2010, the association and the commission reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. After incorporating recommendations of City Manager Eileen Cabanel, both parties ratified the agreement, which was submitted to city council in February. The council objected to certain provisions and requested a revised draft, but did not take a vote until October, when it rejected the cost items.
Meanwhile, in June, after learning the council sought a $35,000 reduction in the Police Department budget, the commission voted to grant step raises to eligible officers that would become effective on July 1, after the expiration of the contract. paid after the contract expired. When the council countered by voting to trim $100,000 from the department budget, the commission rescinded its vote granting the step raises.
The LPA appealed to the PELRB, charging that the commission failed to ensure that the council voted on the agreement within the 30 days prescribed by law, bargained in bad faith by acquiescing in the council's interference with negotiations and committed an unfair labor practice by rescinding the step raises.
In ruling against the association, the PELRB found that the commission had no authority to compel the council to vote on the agreement. Likewise, the board held that claims that the council improperly interfered with contract negotiations could not be lodged against the commission. Finally, the PELRB ruled that the commission was not bound to provide step raises and was entitled to withhold them, since as cost items they would require the council's approval, which was clearly not forthcoming.
In an opinion written by Justice Jim Bassett, the court upheld each of the three rulings by PELRB. They agreed that there is nothing in statute to require a public employer, in this case the Police Commission, to ensure that the legislative body votes in a timely manner. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that the commission encouraged the council not to vote within 30 days. Nor is there evidence indicating that the commission enabled or allowed the council to encroach on on its bargaining authority.
The justices also agreed the commission was entitled to rescind the step raises, but not because they required the approval of the council. Instead, they explained that when a collective bargaining agreement expires, both parties are bound to maintain the "status quo," or "conditions under which employees worked." But, the status quo does not require payment of step raises, which may or may not be granted at the discretion of the employer.
The LPA argued that the commission, having granted the increases, should have submitted them to the council. The court, however, noted that only cost items must be submitted to the legislative body for its approval and a cost item is defined as "any benefit acquired through collective bargaining. Since the step raises were not the result of collective bargaining, the justices rules that the commission was at liberty to rescind them and not obliged to present them to the council.