Does a teachers’ union have to represent a substitute teacher?

California substitute teacher claims she has constitutional, statutory rights to representation

Does a teachers’ union have to represent a substitute teacher?

The California Court of Appeal recently upheld the Public Employment Relations Board’s finding that a substitute teacher was excluded from union representation by virtue of the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the school district.

The plaintiff in the case of Wu v. Public Employment Relations Board was a substitute teacher and home hospital instructor with the Twin Rivers Unified School District.  

The plaintiff filed a claim against the school district. She alleged that, while the school district classified her as a substitute teacher, she fell under a different classification under the Education Code since she was also a home hospital instructor. She contacted Twin Rivers United Educators, a union, for representation.

The Public Employment Relations Board refused to file an unfair labor practice complaint on the plaintiff’s behalf. The board said that she was not entitled to union representation since the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the school district excluded substitute teachers from the union’s membership.

This prompted the plaintiff to file an unfair practice charge with the board. The board dismissed her charge.

The plaintiff took the case to court. She alleged that the board committed an error by ignoring the Education and Employment Relations Act. The board and the union demurred. The trial court sustained the demurrer.

The plaintiff appealed. She asserted that she had a constitutional right to union representation as a misclassified teacher and as a substitute teacher. She also claimed a statutory right to union representation, which the collective bargaining agreement allegedly could not circumvent.

The California Court of Appeal for the Third District affirmed the trial court’s decision.

No constitutional right to representation

The Court of Appeal ruled that the plaintiff lacked a constitutional right, whether under the Sixth Amendment or under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to the union’s representation as a substitute teacher or as a misclassified employee.

The Sixth Amendment, which involved the right to representation during a criminal trial, did not support the plaintiff’s argument that she deserved union representation for disputes with her employer, the appellate court explained.

Regarding the Fourteenth Amendment, the appellate court found that the plaintiff did not explain how the procedure that the school district provided for employees to challenge their employment classifications failed to comply with due process, the appellate court said.

No statutory right to representation

The Court of Appeal ruled that the board did not wrongly interpret section 3545 of the Education and Employment Relations Act when it found that the provision allowed teachers’ unions to exclude substitute teachers from representation.

The appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that, because she worked the same hours and performed the same functions as a represented classroom teacher, the union had to represent her under the Education and Employment Relations Act.

The plaintiff acknowledged that it was not the union but the school district which hired the teacher that had control over the classification of teachers upon hiring, the Court of Appeal noted.

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