Court Upholds Bus Driver Non-Renewals Where CBA is Silent

On December 14, 2018, the Fifth District Court of Appeals (Morrow County) upheld Highland Local School District Board of Education’s decision to non-renew two first year bus drivers.

The Union filed a grievance in response to the Board’s notice of intent not to renew the limited contracts of two bus drivers. The grievance claimed there was no showing of “just cause” and proceeded to arbitration based upon the language of the collective bargaining agreement – only a “just cause” provision for discipline and discharge and silent on the issue of the non-renewal of limited non-teaching contracts. The agreement also included a general statement that the contract “supersedes” all applicable state law.

While arbitration hearing dates were being scheduled, the union’s attorneys filed a declaratory judgment action in court that was decided in favor of the Board on the basis that because the contract did not address the issue of non-renewal, state law applies.

The Court of Appeals of Ohio’s Fifth District agreed with the trial court, rejecting the union’s claim that a general statement in the contract that the collective bargaining agreement “supersedes applicable state law” somehow preempted the application of Ohio’s non-renewal statutes. The Court stated that such overrides can only occur “when a provision specifically addresses a matter and evinces a clear intent to override the statutory law relating to that matter.”

As such, since the contract made no specification about the issuance, sequence, renewal, or non-renewal of limited non-teaching contracts, there was no discernible conflict between the labor agreement and the statutes, therefore, “both R.C. 3319.081 and 3319.083 apply in the case.”

What This Decision Means for Your District
This is a strong decision for the proposition that statutory rights can only be superseded by express language in a collective bargaining agreement. This works both ways and districts should take great care in drafting contract proposals that conflict with existing state laws, particularly as they relate to employee rights.

Along those same lines, it is very important that district administration carefully review non-teaching labor agreements relative to the issue of non-renewal given the recent amendments that now extend limited contracts from three years (1, 2, continuing) to seven years (1, 2, 2, 2, continuing). If you have addressed non-renewal in your non-teacher agreement, you will need to verify that you will also be able to take advantage of these additional years before continuing contract status is granted. You should also anticipate proposals from non-teacher unions attempting to restrict the extension of limited contract status.

United Elec. Radio & Machine Workers of Am. v. Highland Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn. 2018 Ohio 5307 (Fifth District Court of Appeals, Morrow County, December 14, 2018).