Last month, I talked about how the Connecticut Supreme Court would start having all seven justices decide cases, instead of just five. The move will reduce the number of cases being reconsidered and lead to more consistent results. A case this morning shows why that move is the right one.
First, the background: Earlier this year, the Connecticut Supreme Court, in a 3-2 decision held that the collective bargaining agreement between the named defendant, the town of Greenwich, and the Silver Shield Association, the union representing the town’s police officers, did not cover the promotion to the position of police captain, which is a position outside the bargaining unit.
At the time, I said that the case, Honulik v. Town of Greenwich, would have "some significance for those who practice labor law in the state because it will help define what areas should be the subject of mandatory bargaining and what areas shouldn’t. "
This morning, the Court upheld the decision, now by a 4-3 vote. The decision, as it acknowledges in footnote one (which you can download here), makes several substantive changes to the underlying analysis of the prior decision and now supersedes it.
The dispositive issue, according to the Court is whether the collective bargaining agreement between the town and the union governs the promotion to the position of police captain, which is a position outside the bargaining unit, and requires that the candidate with the highest assessment score on a promotional examination be awarded the promotion. The Conn. Supreme Court again held that it does not.
The case turns on a pretty specific factual review of the text of the collective bargaining agreement and whether a "past practices clause" (as I talked about in the prior post) would apply.
Justice Katz again writes the dissenting opinion and claims that the majority has made error after error in its logic:
In my view, the majority’s reasoning is flawed because, on the one hand, the majority fails to give full effect to the provision in the agreement addressing promotions to the position of captain by ignoring the fact that the terms therein have a meaning that is informed by past practice while, on the other hand, the majority gives an unduly expansive effect to that promotion provision by concluding that it invalidates the past practices clause in the agreement as it applies to this subject despite the fact that past practice is not inconsistent with, and indeed can be reconciled with, the promotion provision. The majority then compounds its error by interpreting the management rights provision in a manner that is not supported by law or logic.
For employers, the thoughts I had earlier this year seem to apply even more so with this new decision:
For employers (and even some labor/employment law attorneys), it’s hard to get excited about this case. It’s lengthy and fact-specific and doesn’t lend itself to some overarching analysis. But this case does reinforce the notion that employers should get sound legal advice when negotiating the terms of an agreement with a union. Nothing beats good quality drafting of collective bargaining agreements to avoid any future disputes later on.