JOHN COLLEGES, INC., VS. ST. JOHN ACADEMY FACULTY AND EMPLOYEES UNION

Posted: May 1, 2015 in case digests, labor relations
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JOHN COLLEGES, INC., VS. ST. JOHN ACADEMY FACULTY AND EMPLOYEES UNION

G.R. No. 167892 October 27, 2006

FACTS:

Petitioner St. John Colleges, Inc. (SJCI) is a domestic corporation which owns and operates the St. John’s Academy (later renamed St. John Colleges) in Calamba, Laguna. Prior to 1998, the Academy offered a secondary course only. The high school then employed about 80 teaching and non-teaching personnel who were members of the St. John Academy Faculty & Employees Union (Union).The CBA between SJCI and the Union was set to expire on May 31, 1997. During the ensuing collective bargaining negotiations, SJCI rejected all the proposals of the Union for an increase in worker’s benefits. This resulted to a bargaining deadlock which led to the holding of a valid strike by the Union on November 10, 1997.In order to end the strike, SJCI and the Union, through the efforts of the NCMB, agreed to refer the labor dispute to the Secretary of Labor and Employment (SOLE) for assumption of jurisdiction. After which, the strike ended and classes resumed. Subsequently, the SOLE issued an Order dated January19, 1998 assuming jurisdiction over the labor dispute pursuant to Article 263 of the Labor Code. The partieswere required to submit their respective position papers. Pending resolution of the labor dispute before the SOLE, the Board of Directors of SJCI approved on February 22, 1998 a resolution recommending the closure of the high school which was approved by the stockholders on even date.

Thereafter, SJCI informed the DOLE, DECS, parents, students and the Union of the impending closure of the high school which took effect on March 31, 1998. Subsequently, some teaching and non-teaching personnel of the high school agreed to the closure. Some 51 employees had received their separation compensation package while 25 employees refused to accept the same. Instead, these employees conducted a protest action within the perimeter of the high school. The Union filed a notice of strike. Thereafter SJCI filed a petition to declare the strike illegal before the NLRC. It claimed that the strike was conducted in violation of the procedural requirements for holding a valid strike under the Labor Code. Subsequently, the 25 employees filed a complaint for unfair labor practice (ULP), illegal dismissal and non-payment of monetary benefits against SJCI before the NLRC, alleging that the closure of the high school was done in bad faith in order to get rid of the Union and render useless any decision of the SOLE on the CBA deadlocked issues.

LA: Dismissed the Union’s complaint for ULP and illegal dismissal while granting SJCI’s petition to declare the strike illegal coupled with a declaration of loss of employment status of the 25 Union members involved in the strike.[SOLE: Union filed a manifestation to maintain the status quo on March 30, 1998 praying that SJCI be enjoined from closing the high school. It claimed that the decision of SJCI to close the high school violated the SOLE’s assumption order and the agreement of the parties not to take any retaliatory action against the other. For its part, SJCI filed a motion to dismiss with entry of appearance on October 14, 1998 claiming that the closure of the high school rendered the CBA deadlocked issues moot. The SOLE denied SJCI’s motions to dismiss and certified the CBA deadlock case to the NLRC] After the favorable decision of the Labor Arbiter, SJCI resolved to reopen the high school for school year 1999-2000. However, it did not restore the high school teaching and non-teaching employees it earlier terminated. That same school year SJCI opened an elementary and college department.

NLRC: Rendered judgment reversing the decision of the Labor Arbiter. It found SJCI guilty of ULP and illegal dismissal and ordered it to reinstate the 25 employees to their former positions without loss of seniority rights and other benefits, and with full backwages. It also required SJCI to pay moral and exemplary damages, attorney’s fees, and two (2) months summer/vacation pay. Moreover, it ruled that the mass actions conducted by the 25 employees on May 4, 1998 could not be considered as a strike since, by then, the employer-employee relationship had already been terminated due to the closure of the high school.

CA: Affirmed the Decision of the NLRC

ISSUE: W/N the petitioner is guilty of ULP and illegal dismissal

HELD:  Yes, the petitioner is guilty of UPL and illegal dismissal, base on the following premise:

When SJCI reopened its high school, it did not rehire the Union members. Evidently, the closure had achieved its purpose, that is, to get rid of the Union members.

Evidence provides that subsequent reopening of the high school after only one year from its closure further show that the high school’s closure was done in bad faith.

Thus, the SJCI asserts that the strike conducted by the 25 employees on May 4, 1998 was illegal for failure to take the necessary strike vote and give a notice of strike. However, the High Court finds for the findings of the NLRC and CA that the protest actions of the Union cannot be considered a strike because, by then, the employer-employee relationship has long ceased to exist because of the previous closure of the high school on March 31, 1998.

In sum, the timing of, and the reasons for the closure of the high school and its reopening after only one year from the time it was closed down, show that the closure was done in bad faith for the purpose of circumventing the Union’s right to collective bargaining and its members’ right to security of tenure. Consequently, SJCI is liable for ULP and illegal dismissal.

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