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City of Mill Creek’s Unfair Labor Practice hearing further delayed

On June 16th, Mill Creek City Manager Michael Ciaravino asked the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) to set aside a recent ruling by their hearing examiner that required a formal hearing to decide the Unfair Labor Practice complaint filed by the employee’s union in July 2020.
City Manager Michael Ciaravino. Photo courtesy of City of Mill Creek.

By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek, June 25, 2021.

On June 16th, Mill Creek City Manager Michael Ciaravino asked the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) to set aside a recent ruling by their hearing examiner that required a formal hearing to decide the Unfair Labor Practice complaint filed by the employee’s union in July 2020.

In a 16-page request, the city’s lawyers again made a number of requests that were denied by PERC Examiner Erin Slone-Gomez in her June 9th ruling.

Ciaravino's request states he wants to settle the complaint through arbitration rather than with a formal hearing.

The hearing examiner ruled that arbitration won't settle the complaint.

Unfair Labor Practice Complaint filed in Response to Layoffs

In an effort to mitigate the anticipated effects of COVID-19 on the city’s budget, in early July of last year Ciaravino laid off three members of the union representing a majority of City of Mill Creek employees who are not part of the Police Department.

The AFSCME union filed an Unfair Labor Practices Complaint for this action with PERC on July 8, 2020, claiming that the city unilaterally laid off the union members without giving the union a bargaining opportunity.

In a July 9th letter to the city council AFSCME Director Miguel Morga said filing an Unfair Labor Practices Complaint was not a common practice for him, “This is only the fourth Unfair Labor Practice Complaint I have filed in my 8 ½ years as a Union Representative and I am disappointed that it has come to this.”

He told the city council that he sought a budget solution for the city involving “furloughs as opposed to layoffs.”

Morga went on to say, “It is a clear basic rule in the State of Washington that the decision to layoff is a mandatory subject of bargaining.”

PERC Makes Preliminary Ruling

On July 30, 2020, PERC ruled that if the following charges from the complaint were true, the city’s actions “may constitute an unfair labor action.”

  • The city unilaterally laid off union members without giving the union a bargaining opportunity.
  • The city contracted out senior accounting work previously performed by a union member without giving the union a bargaining opportunity.
  • The city didn’t supply relevant information requested by the union as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

At that point PERC gave the city 30 days to formally respond to the complaint.

In an August 12th press release Ciaravino stated, “While the City has shared financial information and other records with the union as part of its good faith bargaining, the City has made it clear from the outset that it has no obligation to bargain over the reorganization and layoff decisions.”

Many meetings and discussions were held between the city and the employees union in an effort to settle the disputes.

The city offered settlement offers that were rejected by the union and the union offered settlement offers that were rejected by the city.

PERC Examiner Rules on City of Mill Creek Motions

In February of this year the city’s attorneys filed documents with the PERC examiner including motions intended to keep a formal hearing from occurring.

On June 9, 2021, PERC Examiner Erin Slone-Gomez denied these efforts to postpone and/or cancel a formal unfair labor practices hearing that had been most recently scheduled to occur in March.

Sloan-Gomez denied the following three City of Mill Creek motions filed by their attorneys:

First, the city wanted more time to settle the issues with the union and requested that the formal hearing be delayed. The hearing examiner pointed out the discussions between the city and the union had already delayed the March 2021 hearing. She denied the city’s motion.

Second, the city argued that arbitration rather than a formal hearing was the best way to settle the dispute. The hearing examiner concluded that since the union’s complaints included issues that arbitration can’t settle, the only way to get a ruling would be with a formal hearing and so denied this motion.

Third, the city wanted the examiner to rule on the charges based on the evidence already presented by both parties. Sloan-Gomez stated, “In denying the motion, I conclude only that there are genuine issues of material fact sufficient to warrant a hearing. The union still bears the burden of proof on its allegations, and the employer still bears the burden on its defenses. A decision will be issued based upon the entire record including evidence produced at hearing.”

Ciaravino’s response to the PERC rulings was to ask the city’s lawyers to appeal.

City Requests PERC Examiner’s Decision to be Reversed

On June 16th the city’s lawyers filed a 16 page request claiming that the examiner made errors in her ruling and asking for it to be reviewed and set aside by the full PERC Board.

In a June 18th telephone interview Morga said the PERC Board normally makes decisions on requests like this within a couple of weeks.

He went on to say his main goal at this point is to have the laid-off workers reinstated, which may be possible because he city recently posted job openings for positions performing some of the laid-off workers’ tasks.

Ciaravino stated in his press releases he wasn’t available to answer any questions on the issue and wouldn’t be providing any additional information.

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