Public Employer Not Required to Pay Automatic Salary Increments After Expiration of Agreement

02.15.2011

In an important ruling by the Public Employment Relations Commission which will affect school boards’ negotiations with their teacher units and potentially be more far-reaching, the Commission declined to grant the teachers’ request for injunctive relief that would have compelled the Board of Education to pay salary increments upon the expiration of a one year collective negotiations agreement. Bloomfield Bd. of Ed. and Bloomfield Educ. Ass’n, PERC No. 2011-55, Docket No. CO-2010-509 (2/3/11). This represents a significant change in the interpretation of law which previously required automatic payment of the increment to teachers units if the expired collective negotiations agreement was less than three years in duration. In this matter, the parties had previously agreed to a one-year agreement. In successor negotiations, the Board offered a wage freeze with no increment movement on the salary guide. The Union filed for injunctive relief to compel payment of the increment which was granted by the hearing officer, but the decision was stayed pending a ruling from the full Commission. The Commission recognized that, if successful in obtaining the increment freeze in negotiations, the Board would not be able to recoup the paid increments to tenured teachers, and would therefore suffer irreparable harm. Accordingly, the Commission rejected the Union’s request to require payment of the increment upon the expiration of the one year agreement. While this ruling directly affects school boards that have entered into agreements that are less than three years in duration, it is also potentially significant to all public employers that are parties to expired collective negotiation agreements that include step increments. Pursuant to this ruling, a public employer that has carefully crafted its proposals in negotiations may be able to forego paying automatic increments to bargaining unit employees while it negotiates over the terms of an expired collective negotiations agreement. Public employers should carefully review this decision and consult with legal counsel regarding its ramifications before determining whether the Commission’s ruling in this matter could be beneficial to the public employer. For more infomation please contact Douglas E. Solomon or Joseph M. Hannon.