Employer Required To Bargain Over Providing Coffee

As a gesture of goodwill during a period of high mandatory overtime in 2007, King County, Washington began providing coffee to its correctional employees in the Juvenile Detention Center, the King County Correctional Facility, and the Maleng Regional Justice Center. The County provided coffee in the break room at the Juvenile Detention Center and in the “blue rooms” of the King County Correctional Facility and Maleng Regional Justice Center.

In 2013, the County requested bids for the coffee service. Ultimately, the County did not award a new contract and the existing coffee service contract ended. In September 2013, the vendor that had been providing coffee services removed its equipment from the County’s facilities.

The King County Corrections Guild and the King County Juvenile Detention Guild filed unfair labor practice complaints alleging that County unilaterally changed working conditions when it stopped providing coffee to employees. Washington’s Public Employment Relations Commission agreed with the unions, and found the County guilty of committing an unfair labor practice.

The Commission noted that “the parties’ collective bargaining obligations require that the status quo be maintained regarding all mandatory subjects of bargaining. As a general rule, an employer has an obligation to refrain from unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment unless it gives notice to the union; provides an opportunity to bargain before making a final decision; bargains in good faith, upon request; and bargains to agreement or to a good faith impasse concerning any mandatory subject of bargaining.

“The issue in this case is not whether the provision of coffee is a mandatory subject of bargaining; the County did not appeal that portion of the Examiner’s decision which found that the provision of coffee is a negotiable benefit. The issues are whether the County breached its good faith bargaining obligation in negotiations over the decision to change a mandatory subject of bargaining and whether it adhered to the statutory procedure for changing a mandatory subject of bargaining for an interest arbitration eligible bargaining unit.

“For interest arbitration eligible employees, all changes to mandatory subjects of bargaining – including those not covered in a collective bargaining agreement – must be made after the parties either reach a negotiated agreement or fulfill their collective bargaining obligations, including proceeding to mediation and, if necessary, interest arbitration. The employees in the Corrections Guild are uniformed personnel and eligible for interest arbitration. The Examiner found the provision of coffee in this case to be a mandatory subject of bargaining. Thus, the County could not stop providing the benefit until the County and the Corrections Guild negotiated an agreement or proceeded through the statutory impasse procedures, including mediation and, if necessary, interest arbitration.

“Sometime in June 2014, the coffee supply at the Juvenile Detention Center was exhausted. The County did not provide more. The Examiner found that, in this case, the provision of coffee was a mandatory subject of bargaining. Employees in the Juvenile Detention Guild are not eligible for interest arbitration. Thus, the County was not at liberty to stop providing coffee until the parties negotiated in good faith to agreement about the coffee service or the parties reached a lawful impasse.”

By way of remedy, PERC ordered the County to once again provide “coffee comparable to what was being provided when the coffee supply ran out.”

King County, Decision 12451-A (PECB, 2016).