In In re Petition of New England Police Benevolent Association, 2016 VT 67 (June 10, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed an order of the Vermont Labor Relations Board dismissing a petition filed on behalf of 69 law enforcement officers of the VT Department of Fish & Wildlife, the VT Department of Liquor Control, and the VT Department of Motor Vehicles by the New England Police Benevolent Association (NEPBA) seeking collective bargaining representatives.
Issue: Over the course of 4 years, the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) and NEPBA filed two petitions on behalf of the officers. The Board dismissed the first petition (filed by VSEA), finding that allowing so few employees to split into an independent bargaining unit would lead to over-fragmentation and would overly complicate the negotiation process. After NEPBA filed the second petition, VSEA moved to dismiss it. NEPBA argued that the Board should use the standard governing motions filed under V.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) and that the facts had changed such that the officers should be allowed to have their own bargaining unit. The Board dismissed the petition without a hearing, finding that NEPBA had not provided evidence that the facts had changed in a way that would warrant a hearing on the petition. NEPBA appealed, arguing that the Board erred in refusing to use the Rule 12 (b)(6) standard and that the Board should have granted a hearing.
Holding: The Court affirmed the Board’s order dismissing the petition after applying a highly deferential standard of review. The Court found that the Board does not need to adopt any, or all, of the Vermont Rules of Civil Procedure – all the Board had to do was consider whether “NEPBA demonstrated substantial evidence to find reasonable cause to believe that a question of unit representation exists.” Given the standard, the Board acted within its discretion in dismissing the petition. With regard to the dismissal without a hearing, the Court again applied a deferential standard of review and concluded that there were no compelling indications of error. While NEPBA argued that the officers’ procedural due process rights were violated, the Court found that the officers were not unilaterally entitled to a hearing and as such, their due process rights were not violated.