of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
Marshall H. Tanick, Teresa J. Ayling, Meyer Njus Tanick, PA,
Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondents.
L. VanderWiel, William J. Everett, Anna L. Yunker, Everett
& VanderWiel, P.L.L.P., Rosemount, Minnesota, for
William O'Brien, Timothy J. Louris, Emily L. Marshall,
Miller O'Brien Jensen, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for
amici curiae Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1005;
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 160;
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 949;
International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 49; and
International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 70.
C. Holten, Jeffrey D. Bores, Chestnut Cambronne PA,
Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Police
and Peace Officers Association Legal Defense Fund.
L. Naughton, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae League
of Minnesota Cities.
public employer's violation of Minn. Stat. §
179A.13, subd. 2(2) (2018), a provision in the Public
Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA) that prohibits the
unfair labor practice of interfering with the existence of an
employee organization, is not excused because the public
employer's interference was a matter of "inherent
managerial policy" under another provision in PELRA,
Minn. Stat. § 179A.07, subd. 1 (2018).
plain language of Minn. Stat. § 179A.13, subd. 2(2),
which prohibits the unfair labor practice of interfering with
the existence of an employee organization, does not require
that the public employer's interference be motivated by
appeal concerns a labor dispute under the Public Employment
Labor Relations Act (PELRA), Minn. Stat. §§
179A.01-.25 (2018). Firefighters Union Local 4725 (the Local)
and union president Mark Turner sued the City after it
restructured its fire department and eliminated all of the
union positions. The district court granted summary judgment
to the City. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that
the City committed an unfair labor practice under Minn. Stat.
§ 179A.13, subd. 2(2), which prohibits public employers
from "interfering with the . . . existence . . . of any
employee organization," and remanded to the district
court. The City sought further review, acknowledging that the
decision to restructure the fire department interfered with
the existence of the Local, but contending that the decision
was an authorized exercise of the City's "inherent
managerial policy" under a different section of PELRA,
Minn. Stat. § 179A.07, subd. 1. We affirm the court of
appeals' decision, but with reasoning that differs in
Local is an affiliate of the International Association of
Fire Fighters and represents five firefighters who were
employed by the City on a full-time basis. The five
firefighters were the entire membership of the Local at the
time of the City's decision to restructure the fire
department in 2015.
2010, the City experienced a budget deficit following a
decrease in both property tax values and state aid. The City
attempted to restructure its fire department by eliminating
the full-time fire equipment operator (FEO) positions and
have the FEO duties performed by paid on-call (POC)
firefighters, who receive nominal compensation and limited
benefits. All of the FEO employees, but none of the POC
firefighters, were members of the Local. The Brainerd City
Council passed a resolution to adopt this plan, but later
rescinded it due to public opposition.
January 2015, the City and the Local negotiated and signed a
new three-year collective bargaining agreement that covered
the union FEO employees, but not the nonunion POC
firefighters. Six months later, the City informed the Local
in writing that the City again sought to restructure the fire
department to save money. The restructuring would eliminate
the FEO positions as a cost-saving measure. The Local
vigorously opposed the City's proposal to lay off all of
the Local's members.
September 2015, the City Council passed a resolution to
restructure the fire department by eliminating the FEO
positions, using POC firefighters to perform the work
previously performed by the FEO employees, and creating a
full-time assistant fire chief position. The effect of the
restructuring was that the union FEO employees lost their
jobs and their duties were performed by nonunion
January 2016, the Local filed a complaint in the district
court alleging four counts. Count I-the only claim at issue
in this appeal-alleged that the City, in eliminating the FEO
positions, laying off the FEO employees, and promoting a POC
firefighter to the new assistant-chief position (rather than
rehiring an FEO employee), had engaged in unfair labor
practices prohibited by PELRA. In Count I, the Local claimed
that the City had engaged in three types of prohibited unfair
(1) interfering, restraining, or coercing employees in the
exercise of the rights guaranteed in sections 179A.01 to
(2) dominating or interfering with the formation, existence,
or administration of any employee organization or
contributing other support to it; [and]
(3) discriminating in regard to hire or tenure to encourage
or discourage membership in an employee organization[.]
Minn. Stat. § 179A.13, subd. 2(1)-(3).
City moved for summary judgment on all counts. It is
important for the analysis that follows to understand the
legal position that the City took. The City acknowledged-
indeed, asserted affirmatively-that its actions had
eliminated the Local. In its statement of undisputed facts in
support of summary judgment, the City represented that,
"[a]s a result of the restructuring, the FEOs were laid
off and the [Local] was dissolved." The City further
asserted that the Local's claim concerning the City's
promotion of a nonunion POC firefighter to the new
assistant-chief position was meritless because PELRA did not
apply after the Local members "were no longer public
employees and Firefighters Union Local 4725 no longer
existed." The City reemphasized this assertion in its
reply memorandum, stating that its decision to promote
"cannot be construed as an act meant 'to encourage
or discourage membership in an employee organization,'
especially one that no longer exists."
City's representation that its actions had eliminated the
Local was supported by testimony from two City officials.
During the fire chief's deposition, he was asked whether
"there would be a union left without any members"
employed by the City. He responded, "No." The fire
chief also stated that it was "correct" to say that
"the restructuring . . . eliminate[d] the union"
and, as a result, "the union would no longer
exist." Similarly, the City administrator stated during
his deposition that it is "a fair presumption" and
"logical" to say that "the union would be
eliminated" if "their positions were
eliminated" by the City.
Local cross-moved for partial summary judgment. Relevant to
this appeal, on Count I, the Local argued, among other
things, that the City's actions had violated section
179A.13, subdivision 2(2), of PELRA by "interfering with
the . . . existence or administration" of the Local.
response, the City argued that, even though the Local had
been eliminated, the City's actions were lawful
under-indeed, authorized by-another provision in PELRA, Minn.
Stat. § 179A.07, subd. 1, which deals with "matters
of inherent managerial policy." Such matters include
"the organizational structure, selection of personnel,
and direction and the number of personnel." Id.
The City argued that decisions by a public employer on these
matters, such as those that prompted this lawsuit, may well
interfere with the existence of employee organizations like
the Local, but are ...