INTERNATIONAL UNION OF POLICE ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 748, a/k/a KITSAP COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE LIEUTENANT'S ASSOCIATION, Appellant,
KITSAP COUNTY, a Washington Municipality, Respondent.
This appeal arises from the Kitsap County Superior Court's order granting attorney fees and costs to Kitsap County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant's Association (the Union). Kitsap County (the County) contends that the award was improper because: (1) the statutory provision relied upon, RCW 49.48.030, does not apply to attorney fees and costs incurred during unfair labor practice proceedings instituted pursuant to chapter 41.56 RCW; (2) the priority of action doctrine bars the claim for relief sought by the Union; and (3) the County and Union's collective bargaining agreement contained an express waiver of recovering attorney fees and costs. We agree with the first contention and reverse.
The County and the Union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) governed by the Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Act, chapter 41.56 RCW (PECBA). The CBA covered a period from January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2009 and set forth the specific amount that each party was to contribute to employee health insurance premiums. The PECBA requires that the status quo be maintained for one year after the lapse of a CBA. Specifically, it provides:
After the termination date of a collective bargaining agreement, all of the terms and conditions specified in the collective bargaining agreement shall remain in effect until the effective date of a subsequent agreement, not to exceed one year from the termination date stated in the agreement. Thereafter, the employer may unilaterally implement according to law.
Before an agreement was reached on a successor agreement to the 2007-2009 CBA, health insurance premiums increased and a dispute arose as to what constituted the status quo for the payment of employer and employee contributions toward 2010 health insurance premiums. The County believed the status quo was the amount it had been paying when the contract expired, with the employees to cover the full amount of the increase in premiums. The Union maintained that status quo was the amount employees were paying when the 2007-2009 CBA expired, and the County was prohibited from unilaterally charging it more.
In December 2009, the Union filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), alleging that the County committed an unfair labor practice (ULP), in violation of the PECBA, when it withheld the amount of the increase in health insurance premiums from employees' paychecks, unilaterally altering the status quo. In its ULP complaint, the Union sought an award of attorney fees, costs, and interest.
The PERC hearing examiner recognized that, although the parties had not contractually agreed to a specific percentage split in premiums, the mutual "caps" on health insurance premium contributions could not coexist, given the increase in premiums owed for 2010. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 35. The hearing examiner determined that the status quo was a split of the increased premiums based on the relative percentages of the employer and employee contributions each made in 2009. The hearing examiner concluded that because the County's withholding of sums in excess of the designated employee contribution rate was a unilateral change in the status quo, it constituted a ULP. As a remedy, the hearing examiner ordered partial refunds of the premiums collected from the employees during bargaining. The hearing examiner did not grant the Union's request for attorney fees, costs, and interest. The County's appeal of the hearing examiner's decision to the PERC board was denied.
The Union did not appeal the hearing examiner's decision of its request for attorney fees and costs. Instead, it filed suit in the Kitsap County Superior Court, seeking a judgment for the attorney fees and costs incurred in the ULP proceeding and for attorney fees and costs incurred in the superior court action.
The Union filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that assessment of fees and costs was mandatory under RCW 49.48.030. The court granted the Union's motion and entered a judgment for fees and costs. The County filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied. The County appeals.
We review the entry of summary judgment de novo, engaging in the same inquiry as the trial court. Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. CR 56(c). Likewise, we review questions of law and issues of statutory interpretation de novo. Cashmere Valley Bank v. State Dep't of Revenue, 175 Wn.App. 403, 408, 305 P.3d 1123 (2013) (citations omitted).
RCW 49.48.030 authorizes an award of attorney fees for employees who must sue in order to collect wages owed from their employers: "In any action in which any person is successful in recovering judgment for wages or salary owed to him or her, reasonable attorney's fees, in an amount to be determined by the court, shall be assessed against said employer or former employer." RCW 49.48.030 is a remedial statute, which courts construe liberally to effect its purpose. Int'l Ass'n of Fire Fighters. Local 46 (IAFF) v. City of ...