PERB Had Exclusive Jurisdiction Over Employer’s Lawsuit For Trespass And Unlawful Picketing

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Apr 01, 2024

Between April 2021 and June 2022, Palomar Health District, a public healthcare district, negotiated with two unions for successor collective bargaining agreements (CBAs): the California Nurses Association (CNA); and the Caregivers and Healthcare Employees Union (CHEU).  Under the current CBAs, unions could only access Palomar Health’s facilities by notifying security upon their arrival, wearing identification, and refraining from interfering with employees’ duties or facility.  The union regularly communicated with its employees in non-work areas of the facilities, including outdoor spaces and cafeterias.

In April and May 2022, while negotiations were still ongoing, union organizers went to Palomar Health’s Medical Center Escondido (PMCE) to inform employees about the ongoing negotiations.  They set up at tables near the hospital’s café and in the cafeteria, and also passed out leaflets at the entrance regarding a potential strike.  Hospital supervisors told the organizers they must leave but could continue their efforts in the employee parking lot.

The District sued the unions and asked the superior court to grant an injunction prohibiting trespassing and unlawful picketing.  The unions filed a demurrer asking the court to dismiss the suit, alleging that the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) had exclusive jurisdiction over these issues.

The next day, the unions jointly filed an unfair practice charge with PERB that alleged the District was unlawfully interfering with their right of access to the employer’s premises, as protected by the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA).  PERB intervened in the District’s lawsuit against the unions.

The trial court denied the District’s request for an injunction, on the grounds that the District had: an adequate remedy to resolve the dispute through PERB; not shown irreparable injury necessary to support an injunction; and not established that the unions committed any unlawful act.  The trial court also denied the unions’ demurrer and found that the trial court could maintain jurisdiction.  The trial court found it could maintain jurisdiction of state law claims because they did not pose a substantial danger of interfering with the PERB unfair practices charge. The unions appealed.

As the appeal was pending, the Administrative Law Judge issued a proposed decision on the unions’ unfair practice charge, concluding that the MMBA gave the unions a right of access to PMCE.  The proposed decision found that the District’s lawsuit was brought for an unlawful purpose or retaliatory motive and ordered the District to stop preventing access to the hospital.

The court of appeal agreed with the unions that the claims in the District’s lawsuit were arguably an unfair labor practice under the MMBA and subject to PERB’s exclusive jurisdiction.  The District’s lawsuit addressed the same controversy that the unions asserted at PERB.  The court of appeal agreed with PERB’s argument that since the same controversy was before PERB, there was a substantial danger that a judicial decision would interfere with PERB’s primary jurisdiction over this labor dispute.  The District’s claims for trespass and unlawful picketing were preempted and subject to PERB’s exclusive jurisdiction.

The court of appeal reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case, ordering the trial court to dismiss the District’s lawsuit.

Palomar Health v. National Nurses United (2023) 97 Cal.App.5th 1189 [316 Cal.Rptr.3d 247].

Note: The MMBA does not apply to public schools and colleges. However, this decision is relevant to public education because PERB interprets the MMBA similarly to how it interprets the EERA, which applies to public school districts and CCDs, and the HEERA, which applies to UCs and CSUs.

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