It took more than five years and reached all the way to the California Supreme Court, but the Antelope Valley College Federation of Classified Employees has knocked a toxic administration on its heels.
“Justice moves slowly, but the fight to protect collective bargaining rights is always worth it,” said AFT Local 4683 President Pamela Ford.
In February 2014, the Antelope Valley Community College District unilaterally changed classified employee work schedules without first obtaining their approval, as required by the parties’ collective bargaining agreement. The local filed an unfair labor practice charge before the Public Employment Relations Board, seeking back pay for employees and a return to their original work schedules.
“We took this case through every step in our contract and won, then we took it to PERB and won, and now we won at the California Supreme Court. That shows the system works.”
— Pam Ford
The district bitterly challenged this charge every step of the way. But on October 30, the California Supreme Court denied the district’s final appeal. The Supreme Court upheld PERB’s decision in the Federation’s favor, ordering back pay for affected employees and reinstating their original schedules.
“This is an incredible victory for workers,” Ford said. “It’s a David and Goliath story — we won in an anti-union district, in the post-Janus era. We took this case through every step in our contract and won, then we took it to PERB and won, and now we won at the California Supreme Court. That shows the system works.”
The ruling means the district must compensate a large number of affected employees for unpaid overtime back to February 2014 — with 7 percent interest per year. The award is estimated to exceed $1.5 million. The district must also accommodate employees who want to return to their original work schedule. The alternative schedule imposed on employees was four 9-hour days and a 4-hour Friday, which created significant hardships for many workers in the 240-member bargaining unit.
Union Attorney David Conway said Local 4683 presented an impressive case at the weeklong PERB hearing. Classified employees traveled daily from Lancaster to Glendale to testify about the unilateral change and the hardships it caused them. PERB relied on this member testimony extensively in siding with the Federation.
“A case really comes together when dozens of people in the workplace get you the documents you need and are willing to go the extra mile,” Conway said. “Believe me, PERB noticed.”
Ironically, a dispute between two unit members lit the fuse to the Federation’s second PERB confrontation with the administration. Ford pointed out that the Federation had a duty of fair representation to both the complainant and the accused staff member.
Shortly thereafter, Ford received an official letter from a campus vice president ordering her to “cease and desist” representing union members, a clear violation of state collective bargaining law. Another vice president submitted a letter calling Ford “a minor character in life.”
It should be noted that Ford has worked at Antelope Valley College for 30 years as a program coordinator for CalWORKs — the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program — on campus.
Federation Counsel Robert Bezemek fired back that the college administrators’ comments were “threats to take reprisals against Federation officials who fulfill their statutory right to represent union members… thereby chilling the union and the represented employees in the exercise of their rights to engage in union and protected activities.”
PERB agreed, issuing a complaint that the district’s cease-and-desist order “interfered with employee rights guaranteed by the Educational Employment Relations Act” and denied the union “its right to represent employees.”
“The district can try all it wants, but people still have rights and unions aren’t going away.”
In both of the district’s losing PERB arguments, Conway, also with the Bezemek law firm, said the college administration ignored the issue of trying to bypass the classified contract. “It shows how little they respect the union, the workforce, or the law.”
Administrators are also “trying to get in the way of the union with a Classified Senate,” Ford said. “I think we should have a voice, but they want to combine us with confidential supervisory management personnel.”
The district is also trying to bypass the faculty contract to eliminate intersession, Ford explained. “The district can try all it wants, but people still have rights and unions aren’t going away.”
“I would love to see some collegiality on campus, but the administration sees everything as a fight, and every fight as winner-take-all.” Ford added. “My members are fired up. Our local is facing major legal bills, but we know we aren’t alone in this fight. CFT and AFT are with us and helping with the legal costs.”
The college administration’s aggressive anti-unionism reflects the Antelope Valley’s deep Republican roots. The times, however, are changing. Voters narrowly favored Hillary Clinton by 50.3 percent in 2016, widening last year to 51.1 percent for Gov. Gavin Newsom.
—By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter
SNAPSHOT: Chronology of Events
Antelope Valley College unilaterally changed classified staff work schedules from a traditional schedule (five 8-hour days a week) to an “alternative” schedule (four 9-hour days and a 4-hour Friday). The college did so without providing staff daily overtime for 9-hour days and without first having a Federation-led vote of its members to affirm the proposed change — as required by the collective bargaining agreement. The Federation filed an unfair labor practice charge.
After a week-long hearing on the Federation’s unfair labor practice charge, an Administrative Law Judge issued a split decision, finding that the district acted unilaterally for some, but not all, employees. The Federation and district both appealed to the full PERB Board.
|December 2018||The Public Employment Relations Board heard the appeal and ruled for the Federation on all counts — holding the district violated the collective bargaining agreement by implementing the schedule change without first having a Federation-led vote. PERB also held that the district failed to provide daily overtime pay for the 9-hour days, and ordered the district to provide back pay with interest to employees for the unpaid overtime and return employees to their original work schedules. The district appealed.|
The State Court of Appeals rejected the district ‘s appeal and affirmed the PERB ruling in favor of the Federation. The district made a final appeal to the state Supreme Court.
|October 2019||The California Supreme Court rejected the district’s appeal in its entirety. The ruling means that the college administration can no longer appeal PERB’s ruling that the college violated state law and the union contract by imposing an “alternative work schedule” on employees without their permission. The district must immediately begin the process of restoring the original employee schedules and providing back pay for the past six years.|