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City’s Firing of All Full-Time Union Firefighters Broke the Law

Oct. 9, 2019, 8:32 PM

The City of Brainerd, Minn., engaged in unfair labor practices when it eliminated all the union positions from its fire department by replacing full-time firefighters with non-union part-time employees, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Oct. 9.

The court in a divided decision rejected the city’s argument that it was within its rights to restructure the department under the “inherent managerial policy” of the state’s Public Employee Labor Relations Act.

A public employer doesn’t have inherent managerial authority to commit an unfair labor practice, the court said.

The city conceded that it interfered with the existence of an employee organization, the court said. This interference is a “prohibited” unfair labor practice, the court said.

And the plain language of the PELRA, which prohibits the unfair labor practice of interfering with the existence of an employee organization, doesn’t require that the public employer’s interference be motivated by anti-union animus, the court said.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Lorie S. Gildea said the case should be remanded for a determination whether the city’s decision was made with the intent to interfere with the union.

The city’s action should only be undone if it was made with an anti-union animus, rather than its stated budgetary reason, Gildea said.

Judge David L. Lillehaug wrote the opinion. Judge G. Barry Anderson joined in the dissent.

Meyer Njus Tanick PA represented the union.

Everett & VanderWiel PLLP represented the city.

The case is Fire Fighters Local 4725 v. City of Brainerd, 2019 BL 386690, Minn., No. A18-0398, 10/9/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes in Washington at PHayes@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com