In Huge Win For Unions, Vermont Supreme Court Holds Labor Negotiations Are Not Public Meetings
On February 23, 2018, the Vermont Supreme Court held that collective bargaining negotiations are not "meetings" within the meaning of the Vermont Open Meetings Law and that a public body may not force a union to negotiate in public. The case represents a major victory for public sector unions in Vermont and a set-back for the Vermont School Boards Association, which has been attempting to undermine teachers' unions by forcing them to negotiate in public.
The decision stems from two separate cases that made their way to the Vermont Supreme Court on different tracks - one through a declaratory judgment action in Superior Court and one through an unfair labor practice proceeding before the Vermont Labor Relations Board - ultimately leading the Court to decide whether the Open Meetings Law applies to negotiations at all. In finding that the Law does not apply to labor negotiations, the Court noted that the word "negotiations" does not even appear in the definition of "meetings" in the Law and further found that giving public bodies the power to unilaterally open labor negotiations to the public would upend the balance of power required in collective bargaining. The Court's decision also harmonizes the Open Meetings Law with other laws relating to public-sector bargaining and is consistent with many decades of experience in Vermont.
The cases were tried and argued by attorney Rebecca McBroom for the Vermont NEA. Pyle Rome partner Al Gordon O'Connell filed a brief in support of the VT-NEA on behalf of the Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont. The decision is a major win for all public sector unions in Vermont who have bargaining relationships with public bodies such as school boards or town boards of selectmen.