California Court Of Appeal Finds Substitute Teacher Did Not Have Statutory Right To Be Represented By Union

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: May 02, 2023

Plaintiff Rebecca Wu was a substitute teacher for the Twin Rivers Unified School District. In her unfair practice charge filed with the Public Employee Relations Board (Board), Wu alleged that the District classified her as a substitute teacher, but her position as a home hospital instructor required a different classification under the Education Code. Wu sought to remedy this problem with the District and contacted the Twin Rivers United Educators (Union) for representation in doing so. The Union declined to represent Wu because the District classified her as a substitute teacher, and under the collective bargaining agreement between the Union and the District, substitute teachers are excluded from the Union’s membership.

Wu argued she has a constitutional right to union representation as a misclassified teacher and as a substitute teacher. Wu further argued that the Union breached its duty of fair representation to her when it refused to represent her. The Board’s general counsel dismissed Wu’s charge and found that because Wu was classified as a substitute teacher, she was excluded from the bargaining unit the Union represented and the Union did not owe any duty to represent her. Wu filed an appeal with the Board. The Board adopted its general counsel’s dismissal letter as its decision and ordered Wu’s unfair practice charge dismissed without leave to amend.

Wu filed a petition for a preemptory writ of mandate in the trial court pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure sections 1085 and 1086 against the Board and the Union. Wu alleged the Board was wrong because it ignored the Education and Employment Relations Act (EERA) in finding she did not have a right to union membership as a misclassified employee or a substitute teacher. The trial court dismissed Wu’s petition. Wu appealed.

In cases involving the Board’s refusal to file an unfair practice complaint, the California Court of Appeal for the Third District noted that its review is limited to whether the Board violated the Constitution, misinterpreted a statute, or exceeded its authority. The Court of Appeal found that Wu did not have a constitutional right to Union representation because Wu did not establish a property interest in her position as a substitute teacher or as a misclassified employee such that the Union owed her a duty of representation. Wu argued because she worked the same hours and performed the same functions as a represented classroom teacher, the Union was required to represent her under the EERA. However, the Court of Appeal noted, and Wu acknowledged, the Union has no control over the classification of a teacher upon hiring because that decision is left to the school district that hired the teacher. Additionally, the Court of Appeal concluded that it was not erroneous for the Board to find that the EERA permits substitute teachers to be excluded from units in which classroom teachers belong.

Wu v. Pub. Emp. Rels. Bd. 87 Cal. App. 5th 715 (2022), reh’g denied (Jan. 19, 2023), review filed (Feb. 21, 2023).

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