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Ill.: School District Subcontracting Was Not Unfair Labor Practice

By Susan R. Heylman  7/29/2014
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A school district did not commit unfair labor practices by deciding to subcontract school bus driver and bus monitor services to an outside vendor, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled. “Subcontracting of bargaining unit work is not ‘inherently destructive’ of employees’ rights but is both an inherent managerial right and an economic weapon of self-help,” the court held.

The school district serves approximately 13,500 students in McLean and Woodford Counties in 25 different buildings. Most of the students were transported to school, and the district experienced difficulty in hiring bus drivers to cover all the routes. In addition, absenteeism was a problem, causing frequent late buses and occasional drop-off errors.

The district informed the union for the bus drivers and bus monitors that it was considering outsourcing all its transportation services, and met with the union to discuss its reasons. After several negotiation sessions, the district issued bid documents for student transportation services. Although the union presented several economic proposals, the district approved the transportation subcontracting and discharged the bus drivers and monitors. 

The union filed unfair labor practice charges against the district. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) found that the bus employees were discharged in retaliation for their union activity and that the district failed to bargain in good faith on its subcontracting decision.

The appellate court overturned IELRB’s decision. The court found no evidence that the employees’ union activity was a substantial or motivating factor in their discharges. Instead, the evidence showed that the district responded to a growing problem by meeting with the union, reassigning staff and mechanics to driving duty, and entering into emergency subcontracting for transportation services.

Moreover, it was undisputed that the district demonstrated it had legitimate reasons for outsourcing the transportation department. Its concerns about operational issues were legitimate, the court said, as was its need for the cost savings associated with the subcontracting bid over the union’s proposal.  

The court rejected the IELRB’s conclusion that the district’s conduct was inherently destructive of employee rights, noting that the inherently destructive theory had not been adopted by Illinois courts in this type of case.

“If such a theory were permitted, every decision by an employer to subcontract work could be labeled ‘inherently destructive,’ since such decisions deprive work to whole groups of employees. An employer would be foolish to even explore outsourcing because any decision could be found to be ‘inherently destructive’ and thus lead to an unfair-labor-practice charge,” it explained.

The court also reversed the IELRB’s finding that the district failed to bargain in good faith about its decision to subcontract, concluding that the evidence was clear that the district acted in good faith. The district had provided notice to the union of its intent to investigate contracting for future student transportation services prior to the solicitation of any bids, discussed the issue at multiple bargaining sessions, explained what the union needed to do to meet the $1.5 million in savings that would result from the subcontracting, and considered the union’s counterproposals.

Community Unit School District No. 5 v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, Ill. App. Ct., No. 4-13-0294 (June 5, 2014).

Susan R. Heylman, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C., area.
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