Court rejects order to halt Atherton layoffs

Union plans to continue lawsuit

Describing it as a "very, very difficult decision," and a "profoundly sad case," a judge denied the Teamsters Union Local 856 request for an injunction that would have stopped the town of Atherton from laying off 11 employees.

Judge Steven Dylina in San Mateo County Superior Court on Thursday (Aug. 11) sought arguments from both sides before rendering the ruling, and told the courtroom that he fully expected the case to head to the appeals court.

He explained that the plaintiffs failed to prove their case in light of other cases cited by Atherton's legal defense, which argued that cities have the right to lay off employees as needed.

The union appeared to agree with the judge's prediction. "We are disappointed in the ruling, but the union will continue to push the lawsuit forward," said spokesman Peter Finn. "Teamsters Local 856 is committed to fighting outsourcing with all available resources."

The town planned to lay off six employees on July 15 as part of its strategy to outsource the building and public works departments. In addition to those six layoffs, one employee retired and another resigned, while five public works maintenance employees received job extensions through the end of August. According to City Attorney Bill Conners, another employee may also retire now that the judge has ruled, bringing the number of actual layoffs to 10.

The layoffs were challenged in court by the union under a section of state government code that it says makes it illegal for the town to outsource the jobs it has targeted, according to Finn. The court granted a temporary restraining order last month, blocking the layoffs until today's hearing.

A similar case in Orange County Superior Court led to a preliminary injunction in July against outsourcing of city services in Costa Mesa. According to the firm representing the employee union in that case, the lawsuit cited California Government Codes 37103 and 53060, which it interprets as prohibiting the use of private contractors for general services performed satisfactorily by city employees.

Those are the same government code sections cited in the Atherton lawsuit. But Conners said the two cases didn't have much in common, primarily because the Teamsters union signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that the city could lay off employees and eliminate positions when necessary due to economic conditions. In the Costa Mesa case, he said, the city outsourced without first trying to negotiate, treating it as a management right.

The Teamsters argued that the MOU expired on June 30. Atherton's legal defense contended in its filing that the agreement is still in effect despite the expiration date, because no new contract has been put in place yet, an argument the judge's ruling appeared to confirm on Thursday.

Conners said he needed to review noticing requirements before confirming a new date for implementing the layoffs.

Interim City Manager John Danielson was not immediately available for comment.

— Almanac staff

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