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In re a Petition For Determination of an Appropriate Unit & Certification as Exclusive Representative Service Employees International Union, South St. Paul

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 5, 2017

In the Matter of a Petition for Determination of an Appropriate Unit and Certification as Exclusive Representative Service Employees International Union, Local 284, South St. Paul, Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
University of Minnesota, Unit 8, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Relator, Bureau of Mediation Services, Respondent.

         Bureau of Mediation Services File No. 16PCE0644

          Brendan D. Cummins, Cummins & Cummins, LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent Service Employees International Union, Local 284)

          Karen G. Schanfield, Krista A.P. Hatcher, Pari I. McGarraugh, Fredrikson & Byron P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Douglas R. Peterson, Shelley Carthen Watson, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for relator University of Minnesota, Unit 8, Minneapolis, Minnesota)

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Caitlin M. Micko, Kelly S. Kemp, Assistant Attorneys General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent Bureau of Mediation Services)

          Margaret A. Luger-Nikolai, Nicole M. Blissenbach, David M. Aron, Education Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota (for amicus curiae Education Minnesota)

          Jessica L. Roe, Shannon N.L. Cooper, Roe Law Group, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for amicus curiae University of Minnesota Faculty Excellence)

          Considered and decided by Reyes, Presiding Judge; Connolly, Judge; and Jesson, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         When the legislature has clearly defined bargaining units under the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA), Minn. Stat. §§ 179A.01-.25 (2016), the Bureau of Mediation Services lacks authority to reassign employee classifications to bargaining units unless those classifications have been significantly modified.

          OPINION

          JESSON, Judge.

         The legislature created 13 specific bargaining units for relator University of Minnesota in Minnesota Statutes section 179A.11, a portion of PELRA. This appeal centers on a dispute over which of the 13 bargaining units is appropriate for university employees classified as lecturers, senior lecturers, teaching specialists, and senior teaching specialists. The university contends that they are appropriately placed in the academic professional and administrative staff unit, Unit 11, while respondent union argues that, given their instructional duties, they should be assigned to the instructional unit, Unit 8. The union, Service Employees International, Local 284 (SEIU), seeks to represent the employees in Unit 8 and, in conjunction with that unionization effort, petitioned the Commissioner of the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) to assign them there. Finding that the lecturers and teaching specialists shared a community of interest with the employees in Unit 8 and that their occupational content had been significantly modified since the initial legislative unit configuration, BMS did so. The university challenges this unit-determination order in this certiorari appeal. Because the plain language of PELRA excludes the employees in these disputed classifications from Unit 8, and because the occupational job content of these employees have not been significantly modified, we conclude that BMS lacked the statutory authority to make this assignment. We therefore reverse.

         FACTS

         In January 2016, respondent SEIU filed a petition with BMS seeking to represent employees in Unit 8, the Twin Cities Instructional Unit at the University of Minnesota. See Minn. Stat. § 179A.11, subd. 1(8) (defining Unit 8). In connection with that petition, the union also requested that BMS's commissioner assign to Unit 8 ten classifications of employees, including lecturer, senior lecturer, teaching specialist, and senior teaching specialist ("lecturers and teaching specialists" or the "disputed classifications").[1] It asserted that the commissioner was required to assign these classifications to the appropriate bargaining unit because they had not been previously assigned, or that, even if they had previously been assigned, their occupational content had been significantly modified. See Minn. Stat. § 179A.10, subd. 4. The union further contended that Unit 8 was the appropriate bargaining unit because the lecturers and teaching specialists shared a community of interest with the employees in that unit. See id. The university, however, objected to the proposed assignment of the lecturers and teaching specialists to Unit 8, arguing that the statutory list of positions for Unit 8 did not include these classifications because they lacked academic rank, see Minn. Stat. § 179A.11, subd. 1(8), and as a result the lecturers and teaching specialists were necessarily assigned to Unit 11, the Academic Professional and Administrative Staff Unit. See Minn. Stat. §§ 179A.10, subd. 4; .11, subd. 1(11) (defining Unit 11).[2] Because these classifications were assigned by the legislature, the university maintained, the commissioner lacked authority to assign them to Unit 8.

         In March 2016, BMS issued a pre-hearing order determining that the lecturers and teaching specialists had not been previously assigned pursuant to statute. It therefore concluded that the commissioner had authority to assign those classifications to bargaining units, and it ordered a hearing to determine the appropriate unit assignment for those positions. In September 2016, following a 13-day hearing, BMS issued an order expanding Unit 8 to include the disputed classifications. It found that, in 2005, the university had significantly modified the occupational content of the disputed classifications, reinforcing BMS's previous conclusion that the commissioner had authority to determine their unit assignment because they had not been previously assigned to a bargaining unit. See Minn. Stat. § 179A.10, subd. 4. BMS therefore examined the record and further determined that the disputed classifications shared a community of interest with the existing classifications in Unit 8. It then ordered that the disputed classifications be included in the Unit 8 bargaining unit. The university requested reconsideration, which was denied. This certiorari appeal follows.

         ISSUES

         I. Did BMS have authority to assign the four disputed classifications to Unit 8 under Minnesota Statutes section 179A.10, subdivision 4, because they were not previously assigned?

         II. If the disputed reclassifications were previously assigned, did BMS have the authority to reassign them because their occupational content had been ...


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