A new case represented by attorneys Douglas N. Silverstein and Michael Jacob of Kesluk, Silverstein, Jacob & Morrison, P.C. has important implications for employment law.
Two weeks ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals revived a laid-off health worker’s claim that her union breached its duty under the Labor-Management Relations Act. The plaintiff was promoted to a new position. In 2007, she struck a deal with her union that if the new job were to disappear, she could keep her old position. This seniority agreement or “bump back agreement” was struck through e-mail between the Community Hospital of San Bernardino and the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West. In 2008, the hospital and union hammered out a collective bargaining agreement.
The plaintiff’s worst fears were realized when the position did disappear and she was laid off in 2012. She appealed to her union about being bumped back to her old job under her seniority agreement. The union offered weak justification for rejecting her claim. In its argument, the union claimed the seniority agreement was invalid because it conflicted with the collective bargaining agreement struck with the hospital in 2008. The union also claimed it conflicted with a memorandum of understanding related to the layoff in 2012.
However, the Ninth Circuit Court held that the seniority agreement struck in 2007 was still enforceable when the reduction in force occurred. The court held the 2008 collective bargaining agreement allowed side-deals like the seniority agreement. In addition, the court said the memorandum of understanding should have activated the bump back agreement.
According to the court the seniority agreement superseded the 2008 bargaining agreement and memorandum of understanding that allowed her employer to lay off staff.
The case will now go to a jury trial.