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United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America v. Iowa Public Employent Relations Board

Supreme Court of Iowa

May 17, 2019

UNITED ELECTRICAL, RADIO & MACHINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, Appellant,
v.
IOWA PUBLIC EMPLOYENT RELATIONS BOARD, Appellee, and STATE OF IOWA and BOARD OF REGENTS, Intervenors-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Douglas F. Staskal, Judge.

         A union appeals a district court order dismissing its petition for judicial review of a declaratory order of the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board. AFFIRMED.

          Charles Gribble and Christopher Stewart of Parrish Kruidenier Dunn Boles Gribble Gentry Brown & Bergmann, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Diana S. Machir, Des Moines, for appellee Iowa Public Employment Relations Board.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Molly M. Weber, Assistant Attorney General, for intervenors-appellees State of Iowa and Iowa Board of Regents.

          Christy A.A. Hickman, Des Moines, for amicus curiae Iowa State Education Association.

          MANSFIELD, JUSTICE.

         I. Introduction.

         This case requires us to interpret recent amendments to the Public Employment Relations Act limiting the mandatory subjects of collective bargaining and the matters an arbitrator may consider if the dispute enters binding arbitration. Under the 2017 amendments, when a bargaining unit does not have at least thirty percent public safety employees, bargaining is limited to "base wages and other matters mutually agreed upon." 2017 Iowa Acts ch. 2, § 6 (codified at Iowa Code § 20.9(1) (2018)). If such bargaining reaches impasse and the impasse persists, the dispute goes to binding arbitration, but the arbitrator may not consider "[p]ast collective bargaining agreements between the parties." Id. § 13 (codified at Iowa Code § 20.22(8)(b)(1)).

         Seeking to clarify the meaning of these provisions, a union sought a declaratory order from the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) and then judicial review of the declaratory order. Both PERB and the district court ruled that "base wages" meant the "minimum (bottom) pay for a job classification, category or title, exclusive of additional pay such as bonuses, premium pay, merit pay, performance pay or longevity pay." In addition, both ruled that "past collective bargaining agreements" meant agreements that predate the current expiring agreement. The union appealed.

         On appeal, we now hold that PERB and the district court correctly interpreted the 2017 amendments. In the abstract, terms like "base wages" and "past collective bargaining agreements" are ambiguous, but the context allows us to determine their meaning here. We conclude that "base wages" means the floor level of pay for each job before upward adjustments such as for job shift or longevity. The term "past collective bargaining agreements," in the context of a law that limits the arbitrator's potential award to a certain percentage increase in base wages, Iowa Code § 20.22(10)(b)(1) (2018), allows the arbitrator to consider the existing collective bargaining agreement but not ones that came before. See id. § 20.22(8)(b)(1). Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

         II. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         The United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) is the parent of two local unions based in Iowa: UE Local 893/Iowa United Professionals and UE Local 896 (COGS). Both locals are certified by PERB to represent bargaining units of State of Iowa public employees. Local 896 represents a unit of graduate and professional students employed by the University of Iowa. Local 893 represents the science and social services units of state employees.

         The Iowa legislature enacted House File 291 in February 2017 to amend the Public Employment Relations Act. See 2017 Iowa Acts ch. 2 (codified in part at Iowa Code ch. 20 (2018)). Previous law required public employers and certified bargaining representatives

to negotiate in good faith with respect to wages, hours, vacations, insurance, holidays, leaves of absence, shift differentials, overtime compensation, supplemental pay, seniority, transfer procedures, job classifications, health and safety matters, evaluation procedures, procedures for staff reduction, in-service training and other matters mutually agreed upon.

         Iowa Code § 20.9 (2017). The 2017 amendments altered this duty for bargaining units that had less than thirty percent public safety employees to "base wages and other matters mutually agreed upon." 2017 Iowa Acts ch. 2, § 6 (codified at Iowa Code § 20.9 (2018)) (emphasis added). Thus, for many public employees in Iowa, the only mandatory subject of collective bargaining became "base wages." The amendments did not define base wages.

         In addition, if a collective bargaining negotiation stalled and binding arbitration was required, previous law required the arbitrator to consider "[p]ast collective bargaining contracts between the parties including the bargaining that led up to such contracts." Iowa Code § 20.22(7)(a) (2017). In 2017, this was changed for bargaining units containing less than thirty percent public safety employees. Henceforth, the arbitrator would be prohibited from considering "[p]ast collective bargaining agreements between the parties or bargaining that led to such agreements." 2017 Iowa Acts ch. 2, § 13 (codified at Iowa Code § 20.22(8)(b)(1) (2018)). At the same time, the 2017 amendments required the arbitrator to "consider and specifically address in the arbitrator's determination . . . [c]omparison of base wages, hours, and conditions of employment of the involved public employees with those of other public employees doing comparable work . . . ." Id. (codified at Iowa Code § 20.22(8)(a)(1)). Additionally, the following qualification was added for bargaining units containing less than thirty percent public safety employees:

[T]he arbitrator's award shall not exceed the lesser of the following percentages in any one-year period in the duration of the bargaining agreement:
(a) Three percent.
(b) A percentage equal to the increase in the consumer price index for all urban consumers for the midwest region, if any, as determined by the United States department of labor, bureau of labor statistics, or a successor index. Such percentage shall be the change in the consumer price index for the twelve-month period beginning eighteen months prior to the month in which the impasse item regarding base wages was submitted to the arbitrator and ending six months prior to the month in which the impasse item regarding base wages was submitted to the arbitrator.

Id. § 12 (codified at Iowa Code § 20.22(10)(b)(1)(a)-(b)).

         On April 21, approximately two months after House File 291 became law, UE petitioned for a declaratory order from PERB. UE sought a declaration on whether four proposals constituted mandatory, permissive, or prohibited subjects of bargaining. UE also asked a fifth question concerning the authority of an arbitrator to consider wage levels under the existing, expiring collective bargaining agreement.

         Proposal I

         "Employee Organization is proposing an annual base wage of 1. $50, 000.00 for each employee,

A. per year beginning July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019,
B. distributed in bi-monthly payments on the 1st and 15th of each month,
C. for working 8 hours a day, 40 hours per week,
D. with nine (9) holidays,
E. three (3) weeks' paid vacation,
F. ten (10) days paid sick leave,
G. time and a half for hours worked over 40 hours in a single week."
PERB is asked to state whether item 1 is of Proposal I mandatory, permissive or prohibited subject of bargaining and to provide a ruling as to whether item 1A is a mandatory, permissive or prohibited subject of bargaining. The same request for a ruling as to 1B and to each part thereafter with rationale for the proposed decision.[1]

         Proposal II

         The employee organization has proposed an annual base wage for each employee in the bargaining unit as follows:

Employee A: $32, 000.00
Employee B: $34, 000.00
Employee C: $36, 802.41
Employee D: $40, 121.00
Employee E: $43, 650.00
Employee F: $45, 444.00
Employee G: $48, 602.00
Employee H: $54.604.50
Employee I: $61, 889.42
Employee J: $69, 551.41

         PERB is asked to state whether Proposal II is a mandatory, permissive or prohibited subject of bargaining.

         Proposal III

         The employee organization represents employees in four different pay grades with pay grades one requiring the least amount of time on the job and pay grade four the most. Each increased step reflects one more year of service (there are no seniority rights) and annual base wage is as follows:

Pay Grade 1:[2]
Year 1 - $30, 000
Year 2 - $32, 000
Year 3 - $35, 000
Year 4 - $40, 000
Year 5 - $46, 000
Pay Grade 2:
Year 1 - $35, ...

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