York County v. MLRB and Teamsters, No. AP-02-64, Affirming No. 02-UDA-01

STATE OF MAINE                                           SUPERIOR COURT
                                                            CIVIL ACTION
YORK, ss.                                              DOCKET NO. AP-02-64

                  v.                                   AND

     York County has appealed from a decision and order on unit determination
appeal of the Maine Labor Relations Board.  The Board decided that a bargaining unit
composed of the four captains in the York County Sheriff's Department could be
represented by the same union, Teamsters Union Local 340, that represents other
employees at the Sheriff's departments through different bargaining units.  Based on
the Board's ruling the captains would be represented by the same union, though in a
different bargaining unit, as the people that they supervise.  The County does not
contest the captains right to be represented by a union and does not contest either their
being placed together in a bargaining unit or there being in a separate unit from other
employees.  The County has argued before the Board and now before this Court that the
captains can join a union but it has to be a different one from the one chosen by the
other employees.

     In 1983 the Board was asked the same question in the case of the Town of Kittery
v. Teamsters Local Union No. 48, Case No. 83-A-02.  In that case the three member board
unanimously found that a union may be the bargaining agent for both "rank-and-file


and the supervisory employees of the same public employer", see page 2 of the Board's
decision.  When this case was presented to the Board in September of 2002 it reached
the same decision, again unanimously.
     The Law Court has just reaffirmed its long held position regarding judicial
review of a state agency's interpretation of a statute that is both administered by the
agency and within its expertise.  In Competitive Energy Services, LLC v. Public Utilities
Commission, 2003 ME 12, 15 (January 30, 2003) the Law Court stated, "First, we
determined de novo whether the statute is ambiguous or unambiguous....  Then we
either review the Commission's construction of the ambiguous statute for
reasonableness or plainly construe the unambiguous statute....  An agency's
interpretation of an ambiguous statute it administers is reviewed with great deference
and will be upheld unless the statute plainly compels a contrary result".  Also see
Langley v. Maine State Employees Association, SEIU, 2002 ME 32, 8, 791 A.2d 100, 102.
     My review of the Maine statutes does not suggest an ambiguity and requires me
to "plainly construe the unambiguous statute."  The Board relied on several provisions
of the Municipal Public Employees Labor Relations Law (Act), 26 M.R.S.A. 961-et
seq., in reaching its conclusion that the same union may represent the bargaining units
for both supervisors and subordinates.
     The first section of the Act, 26 M.R.S.A. 961, is entitled "Purpose" and states
     It is declared to be the public policy of this State and it is the purpose of
     this chapter to promote the improvement of the relationship between
     public employers and their employees by providing a uniform basis for
     recognizing the right of public employees to join labor organizations of
     their own choosing and to be represented by such organizations in
     collective bargaining for terms and conditions of employment.
Likewise, 26 M.R.S.A. 963 entitled "Right of public employees to join labor
organizations" indicates, at page 353,

     No one shall directly or indirectly interfere with, intimidate, restrain,
     coerce or discriminate against public employees or a group of public
     employees in the free exercise of their rights, hereby given, voluntarily to
     join, form and participate in the activities of organizations of their own
     choosing for the purposes of representation and collective bargaining, or
     in the free exercise of any other right under this chapter.
Both sections refer to labor organizations "of their own choosing."  There is no statutory
provision, which could have been in the Act initially or added to it through a
subsequent amendment, that qualifies or restates the language to read "of their own
choosing unless their subordinates have chosen the same labor organization."  I am
required to read the statutes as they are written, not as they could have or, from the
County's view, should have been written.
     The next statutory section relied upon by the Board is 26 M.R.S.A. 966(1)
governing bargaining units.  This statute deals with issues of the appropriateness of a
unit for collective bargaining purposes and whether a supervisory position can be
included in a bargaining unit.  It does not appear from the statute that a supervisory 
position would of necessity have to be excluded from the bargaining unit.  If a
supervisor could be in the same unit it follows that a supervisor could, perhaps even
more easily, be in the same union.  More importantly there is nothing in the text of
Section 966(1) that suggests that the members of a bargaining unit composed of
supervisors has to be in a separate union.
     The fourth statutory reference by the Board is to 26 M.R.S.A. 967(2) governing
elections.  While this statute is not central to my analysis, the Board is correct that the
executive director of the Board is to certify the organization that receives a majority of
the votes cast as the bargaining agent.  The Board is correct that the statute does not
require the Board to examine whether the winning bargaining agent also represents
other employees of the public employer.

     The final statutory section cited by the Board is 26 M.R.S.A. 966(4)(E) which
states that, "a bargaining unit composed of a majority of supervisors may not merge
under this subsection with any other bargaining unit."  If the supervisors could not be
in the same union as the subordinate employees then there would be no need for this
legislative provision.
     The statutes are not ambiguous.  If they were the result would be the same as the
Board's interpretation of these statutes, which it administers and which are within its
expertise, has been consistent for two decades.  Great deference would be given to these
interpretations, as the statutes do not plainly compel a different result.
     The County has ably briefed and argued its case.  Maine has chosen a different
path, perhaps the one less traveled by, than did the federal government or some other
states.  It is not for the Superior Court to decide these questions of policy. The Board
was fully correct in its analysis of and interpretation of the Act.  A review of the entire
Act as a whole would also support the decision of the Board.
     The entry is:
     Decision and Order on Unit Determination Appeal of September 27, 2002
     of the Maine Labor Relations Board is affirmed.
Dated:  January 31, 2003
                                             Paul A. Fritzsche
                                             Justice, Superior Court