Split COA reverses state ruling against 3 teacher union contracts

A divided appellate panel Wednesday overturned the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board’s final decisions that three contracts negotiated and ratified by Indiana teachers unions and their respective school employers did not comply with state law.

In the case of Culver Community Teachers Association, et al. v. Indiana Education Employment Relations Board, 19A-PL-2989, the Culver Community Teachers Association, Decatur County Education Association, Smith-Green Community Schools Classroom Teachers Association, and West Clark Teachers Association appealed a denial of their joint verified petition for judicial review of the board’s final decisions regarding their respective collective bargaining agreements.

Issues for the teacher associations began following their submission of negotiated and ratified contracts for the 2017-2018 academic school year to an IEERB compliance officer for review.

Upon issuing a report and recommendations, however, the compliance officer found that the four CBAs each contained a provision that was noncompliant with Indiana Code Section 20-29-6-4, which enumerates the mandatory subjects of collective bargaining for teachers.

In affirming the finding of noncompliance, the board found in all four CBAs that the “parties may not bargain a limitation on the assignment of an ancillary duty.”

The Marion Superior Court affirmed, holding that the board’s four final decisions were not arbitrary and capricious. It further denied the teachers associations’ petition for judicial review, but a split Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Wednesday.

“Identifying agreed-upon ancillary duties is not the same as bargaining them. A plain and ordinary reading of the CBAs does not indicate that the parties bargained regarding which ancillary duties teachers would be required to perform. Rather, the parties identified the compensable ancillary duties and bargained the compensation accordingly,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the majority, joined by Judge Paul D. Mathias.

“… Although the trial court discounted (IEERB v. Nettle Creek Classroom Teachers Ass’n, 26 N.E.3d 47 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015) and Jay Classroom Teachers Ass’n v. Jay School Corp., 45 N.E.3d 1217 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015)) as mere dicta, the holdings of these cases are not dicta. These cases are directly on-point and set forth legal holdings that directly relate to the issue at-bar. The trial court’s findings and conclusions thereon dismissing Nettle Creek and Jay Classroom I as dicta are clearly erroneous,” the majority wrote.

Given the willingness of the school employers to bargain regarding the ancillary duties at issue, the appellate majority thus concluded that it could not agree with the IEERB’s conclusion that the challenged provisions interfered with the school employers’ collective bargaining rights.

“To the contrary, by including the challenged provisions in the final, negotiated, and ratified CBAs, the School Employers assented to and permitted bargaining thereon, and the Teachers Associations did not impermissibly dictate bargaining subjects for negotiation,” the majority wrote.

Finding that the teachers associations carried their burden to prove that the IEERB’s final decisions regarding their respective CBAs are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law, the appellate majority concluded that their petition was denied in error.

Judge Patricia Riley, however, dissented with a separate opinion, arguing that the majority relied on dicta contained Nettle Creek and Jay Classroom I, “neither of which addressed the issue at hand, which is properly framed as whether Indiana Code section 20-29-6-4 provides teachers the authority to bargain with a school corporation as to what constitutes an ancillary duty.

“As the majority acknowledges, we accord deference to an administrative agency’s interpretation of a statute it is charged with enforcing. Given the plain terms of the statute and the lack of binding legal authority for the Teachers Associations’ position, I cannot conclude that the trial court erred when it denied the petition for judicial review,” Riley wrote in dissent.

Regardless, the appellate majority reversed and remanded to the IEERB with instructions to adopt the ratified CBAs of the School Employers and the Teachers Associations.

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