A recently published opinion of the California Court of Appeal, Zavala v. Scott Brothers Dairy, Inc., expanded on the 2005 Cicairos v. Summit Logistics, Inc. decision by holding that employees subject to a collective bargaining agreement cannot be required to arbitrate claims for rest period and wage statement violations, even if those claims have already been grieved and resolved by the union representing those employees.

In Zavala, the plaintiff sued its employer alleging that the employer failed to provide rest periods and adequate wage statements to employees.  The plaintiff and the class he purported to represent were members of a union and subject to a collective bargaining agreement between the union and the employer.  The collective bargaining agreement set forth rest period and wage statement requirements similar to those set forth in the California Labor Code.  In addition, the collective bargaining agreement set out a grievance procedure, including a requirement that unresolved grievances be submitted to final and binding arbitration.  Prior to the plaintiff bringing the lawsuit, the union had grieved and informally resolved, the rest period practices at issue in the lawsuit.  The employer moved to compel arbitration.  It also moved to preclude the rest period claims on the ground that such claims had already been resolved.  The trial court denied the motions and the Court of Appeal affirmed.

Expanding on the 2005 decision of Cicairos v. Summit Logistics, Inc., the Court reasoned that rest period and wage statement requirements set forth in the California Labor Code are minimum statutory requirements that cannot be waived.  Accordingly, the lawsuit, which sought to enforce these nonwaivable statutory rights, was not an attempt to enforce the collective bargaining agreement, even though the collective bargaining agreement purported to control rest period and wage statement requirements.  Further, because the collective bargaining agreement did not include a provision explicitly requiring the arbitration of statutory claims, the Court held that employees could not be forced to submit their claims to arbitration.

Finally, the Court held that the rest period claims were not precluded by the fact that the union had already grieved, and resolved, these claims.  The Court reasoned that the minimum requirements of the Labor Code, such as the plaintiff’s rest period and wage statement claims, may be judicially enforced, independent of the collective bargaining agreement.

Importantly, however, the Court of Appeal noted that courts have held, in other contexts, that unions can waive the right to seek judicial resolution of their member-employees’ statutory claims as long as the collective bargaining agreement contains a clear and unmistakable waiver of that right.  Thus, the Court left open the possibility that a collective bargaining agreement can require arbitration to resolve minimum statutory rights, such as rest period and wage statement claims, where that agreement contains an explicit waiver of the employees’ right to judicially enforce these claims.

In light of this decision, employers with arbitration provisions in their collective bargaining agreements should carefully review their collective bargaining agreements to ensure that statutory claims are explicitly subject to arbitration.  While the issue is still undecided, it is possible that such provisions will be enforced if the arbitration agreement contains this explicit waiver of the right to judicially enforce statutory claims.