Zylstra v. Piva, 43485

Citation539 P.2d 823,85 Wn.2d 743
Decision Date28 August 1975
Docket NumberNo. 43485,43485
Parties, 90 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2832, 78 Lab.Cas. P 53,782 Helen ZYLSTRA et al., Respondents, v. Lilly PIVA et al., Appellants.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington

Gelman & Couture, Herbert Gelman, Tacoma, for appellants.

Comfort, Dolack, Hansler, Hulscher, Rosenow & Burrows, Jack Rosenow, Don Herron, Pierce Co. Pros. Atty., Terrence F. McCarthy, Deputy Pros. Atty., Tacoma, for respondents.

HAMILTON, Associate Justice.

This appeal presents the question of whether the Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Act is applicable to employees in juvenile court facilities.

In 1972, a bargaining unit was organized at Remann Hall, the juvenile court facility in Pierce County, by the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, AFL-CIO, Local 120. The unit was organized pursuant to RCW 41.56 (Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Act). Remann Hall employees, represented by the union, negotiated a contract with Pierce County Commissioners which included provisions for hours, wages, and work conditions. After the contract became effective, a monthly deduction for union dues and insurance was made from the salaries of Remann Hall employees. Plaintiffs challenged this contract in Pierce County Superior Court seeking a declaratory judgment holding the contract null and void because it was not authorized by RCW 41.56. Plaintiffs further sought injunctive relief and damages in the amount of dues paid to the union.

The trial court found that the union was organized with the knowledge of the juvenile court judge, but that employees of the juvenile court are employees of the State and, therefore, under the doctrine of Roza Irrigation Dist. v. State, 80 Wash.2d 633, 497 P.2d 166 (1972), the bargaining act does not apply to them. The court therefore declared the contract void and awarded damages. Defendants appeal. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

As a preliminary matter, we note that plaintiffs' failure to exhaust remedies under the bargaining act and under the union contract does not bar their access to the courts. Exhaustion of administrative remedies will not be required where resort to those procedures would be futile. See Washington Local 104, Boilermakers v. International Bhd. of Boilermakers, 33 Wash.2d 1, 203 P.2d 1019 (1949). Here, remedies prescribed by either the bargaining act or the contract in question would have been futile where the controversy centers on the applicability of the act and the validity of the contract.

We thus proceed to the question of the applicability of the collective bargaining act to employees of the juvenile court. The purpose of the act is declared by RCW 41.56.010 to be as follows:

The intent and purpose of this chapter is to promote the continued improvement of the relationship between public employers and their employees by providing a uniform basis for implementing the right of public employees to join labor organizations of their own choosing and to be represented by such organizations in matters concerning their employment relations with public employers.

The bargaining act applies 'to any county or municipal corporation, or any political subdivision of the state of Washington . . .' RCW 41.56.020. The act makes the following definitions:

(1) 'Public employer' means any officer, board, commission, council, or other person or body acting on behalf of any public body governed by this chapter as designated by RCW 41.56.020, or any subdivision of such public body.

(2) 'Public employee' means any employee of a public employer except any person (a) elected by popular vote, or (b) appointed to office pursuant to statute, ordinance or resolution for a specified term of office by the executive head or body of the public employer, or (c) whose duties as deputy, administrative assistant or secretary necessarily imply a confidential relationship to the executive head or body of the applicable bargaining unit, or any person elected by popular vote or appointed to office pursuant to statute, ordinance or resolution for a specified term of office by the executive head or body of the public employer.

(4) 'Collective bargaining' means the performance of the mutual obligations of the public employer and the exclusive bargaining representative to meet at reasonable times, to confer and negotiate in good faith, and to execute a written agreement with respect to grievance procedures and collective negotiations on personnel matters, including wages, hours and working conditions, which may be peculiar to an appropriate bargaining unit of such public employer, except that by such obligation neither party shall be compelled to agree to a proposal or be required to make a concession unless otherwise provided in this chapter.

Defendants contend that plaintiffs are employees of Pierce County. Under the provisions of the statute, as quoted above, the collective bargaining act applies to counties, and the Pierce County Commissioners would qualify as public employers; the employees would therefore be eligible to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining pursuant to RCW 41.56. Plaintiffs reply, and the trial court agreed, that they are employees of the Pierce County Superior Court, and thus of the State judicial branch; as such, they are employees of the State, not of the county, and are excluded from the applicability of the collective bargaining act. Our holding in Roza Irrigation Dist. v. State, supra, if applicable, would support this result. We there held at page 638 of 80 Wash.2d, at page 169 of 497 P.2d:

It appears evident, however, that the legislature did not intend to include employees of the state itself, but rather employees at the local level, since state employees are not referred to in RCW 41.56.020 . . .

Plaintiffs' employment bears a substantial relationship to both Pierce County and the judicial branch. Under RCW 13.04.040, 1 compensation for juvenile court probation counselors and detention staff is to be fixed and paid by the county. Probation officers have been held to be county officers. In re Lewis, 51 Wash.2d 193, 316 P.2d 907 (1957); State ex rel. Richardson v. Clark County, 186 Wash. 79, 56 P.2d 1023 (1936).

However, RCW 13.04.040 also provides that juvenile court employees are to be hired, controlled, and discharged by the judges of the court. The traditional test of employer-employee relationship in Washington is the right of control. James v. Ellis, 44 Wash.2d 599, 269 P.2d 573 (1954).

Thus, plaintiffs are hired and fired by the juvenile court judges, and are compensated by the county. We conclude that, for the purposes of the applicability of the collective bargaining act, plaintiffs may be classed as having a dual status: They are employees of the county for purposes of negotiating matters relating to wages, including benefits relating directly to wages such as medical insurance. Thus, wage negotiations with the Board of County Commissioners are appropriately controlled by the provisions of the bargaining act. However, for purposes of hiring, firing, working conditions, and other matters necessarily within the statutory responsibility of the juvenile court judges, plaintiffs are employees of the court and thus of the State's judicial branch. Adhering to the doctrine of Roza Irrigation Dist. v. State, supra, these matters do not fall within the purview of the bargaining act.

Our solution seeks to preserve for these employees as large a sphere of collective bargaining as possible, in accord with the stated purpose of the bargaining act. RCW 41.56.010. We do not believe that our approach creates a conflict between branches of government and thereby violates the doctrine of separation of powers. Our holding is limited to determining that, for purposes of wage bargaining, plaintiffs are employees of the county and may invoke the bargaining rights granted by the bargaining act. Nothing in our approach diminishes the final control of the judiciary over all necessary court functions. The remote contention that the collective bargaining process may result in salary levels inadequate to attract and retain competent personnel rests on the premise that, by permitting court employees to bargain with their paymaster (the county), the judicial branch thereby relinquishes its inherent power to control and administer its functions. The court cannot, of course, relinquish either its power or its obligation to keep its own house in order. In the unlikely event that the county refused adequate salary funds, the court would be both obliged and empowered to protect its proper functioning and see to the effective administration of justice. O'Coin's Inc. v. Treasurer of County of Worcester, Mass., 287 N.E.2d 608 (1972). The legislature may provide by statute for the compensation of judicial employees. See Griffiths v. State, 28 Wash.2d 493, 183 P.2d 821 (1947); Leahey v. Farrell, 362 Pa. 52, 66 A.2d 577 (1949); 16 C.J.S. Constitutional Law § 116. However, such a legislative enactment does not in any way impair the inherent power of the judiciary to require payment of necessary funds for the efficient administration of justice. Leahey v. Farrell, supra; Commonwealth ex rel. Carroll v. Tate, 442 Pa. 45, 274 A.2d 193 (1971); Noble County Council v. State ex rel. Fifer, 234 Ind. 172, 125 N.E.2d 709 (1955). In Leahey v. Farrell, supra, 362 Pa. at 57, 66 A.2d at 579, the Pennsylvania court noted the presumption that "public officers will perform a public trust," and stated:

Should Commissioners, however, neglect or refuse to furnish funds, or sufficient funds, for reasonable judicial functions, and in consequence the efficient administration of the judicial branch of the government is thereby impaired or destroyed, the courts possess the inherent power to require such necessities to be furnished and to direct payment therefor out of the public treasury . . ..

Leahey v. Farrell, supra at 57--58, 66 A.2d at 579. See...

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