Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

The Top Ten Judicial Decisions Affecting Labor Relations in Public Education during the Decade of the 1990's: The Verdict of Quiescent Years

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

The Top Ten Judicial Decisions Affecting Labor Relations in Public Education during the Decade of the 1990's: The Verdict of Quiescent Years

Article excerpt

Was there ever a society so infatuated with the drawing up of lists? Whole forests have been destroyed so that we can avidly consume the latest "top ten" in every conceivable category from the "worst dressed" to the "best colleges."

There can, of course, be objective bases for the construction of such lists as, for example, in the ratings of the greatest baseball batters of all time. But, when it comes to the identification of the most important judicial decisions in any field, subjectivity reigns supreme. While our designations may be informed by the number of times a particular case has been cited by other courts or analyzed in academic journals, such statistical elements do not do away with the need for judgment.

So it is with a great deal of humility and trepidation that I propose my own list of the "top ten judicial hits" of the decade of the nineties-those likely to have the greatest impact upon labor relations in the future. If, as I believe, the reader will find little of earth shaking significance in these decisions, I would reply that, indeed, very little of transcendental importance has occurred in the development of the judicially created law affecting labor relations in public education systems. In the main, the decisions have refined or expanded upon precedent, but blazed no new trails.

There were, of course, a number of significant labor law decisions of general applicability, but because the focus of this inquiry is public school labor relations I have limited my "short list" of candidates to those cases that arose at least in an educational context.

With that constraint in mind, here are my nominees:

1. Baltimore Teachers Union v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 6 F.3d 1012 (4th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1141 (1994).

In the early 1990's both states and municipalities were experiencing revenue short-falls. Baltimore was no exception. In 1991 Baltimore's state aid was reduced by some $24 million dollars, and another $13 million dollar cut had been proposed for the following year. Considering the City's precarious financial condition, the reductions could not have come at a worse time.

In consequence, the City was unable to erase a substantial deficit despite having effected non-salary costs savings, implemented layoffs, abolished positions and prompted early retirement of employees.

Baltimore thereupon declared a fiscal emergency, and, instead of ordering further layoffs, adopted a furlough plan whereby all full-time City employees, except for firefighters, lost the annual equivalent of 2.5 days of pay, or slightly less than 1% of their gross annual salaries.

The furlough plan was in conflict with the compensation terms of the collective bargaining agreement with the City's public school teachers.

Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution provides in relevant part that "No State1 shall ... pass any ... Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.....

At least since United States Trust Company v. New Jersey,2 it has been held that the "Contract Clause" prohibits a substantial impairment of a contractual relationship unless the impairment "is reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose."

The Baltimore Teachers Union, American Federation of Teachers Local 340, AFL-CIO, filed suit alleging that the reductions constituted just such an impermissible impairment of their collective bargaining contract with the City.

The Court of Appeals had little difficulty in finding that the salary withholdings did constitute a substantial impairment of the Union's contract with the City because the contractually specified level of compensation was the principal inducement for the Union to enter into the contract, and upon the continued existence of which its members had especially relied in ordering their financial affairs.

Although conceding that impairment of public contracts stands on a "somewhat different footing" than interference with private contracts because of the government's self-interest, the Court nevertheless concluded that assuring IMAGE FORMULA8

financial integrity was an important public purpose, and accorded deference to the City's legislative choice of the means to achieve this objective. …

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