This is a petition for review on certiorari
seeking the reversal of the Decision of the Court of Appeals, promulgated on 9 August 1999, dismissing the petition filed by Colegio de San Juan de Letran (hereinafter, "petitioner") and affirming the Order of the Secretary of Labor, dated December 2, 1996, finding the petitioner guilty of unfair labor practice on two (2) counts.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The facts, as found by the Secretary of Labor and affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"On December 1992, Salvador Abtria, then President of respondent union, Association of Employees and Faculty of Letran, initiated the renegotiation of its Collective Bargaining Agreement with petitioner Colegio de San Juan de Letran for the last two (2) years of the CBA’s five (5) year lifetime from 1989-1994. On the same year, the union elected a new set of officers wherein private respondent Eleanor Ambas emerged as the newly elected President (Secretary of Labor and Employment’s Order dated December 2, 1996, p. 12).
Ambas wanted to continue the renegotiation of the CBA but petitioner, through Fr. Edwin Lao, claimed that the CBA was already prepared for signing by the parties. The parties submitted the disputed CBA to a referendum by the union members, who eventually rejected the said CBA (Ibid, p. 2).
Petitioner accused the union officers of bargaining in bad faith before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). Labor Arbiter Edgardo M. Madriaga decided in favor of petitioner. However, the Labor Arbiter’s decision was reversed on appeal before the NLRC (Ibid, p. 2).
On January 1996, the union notified the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) of its intention to strike on the grounds (sic) of petitioner’s: non-compliance with the NLRC (1) order to delete the name of Atty. Federico Leynes as the union’s legal counsel; and (2) refusal to bargain (Ibid, p. 1).
On January 18, 1996, the parties agreed to disregard the unsigned CBA and to start negotiation on a new five-year CBA starting 199s1999. On February 7, 1996, the union submitted its proposals to petitioner, which notified the union six days later or on February 13, 1996 that the same had been submitted to its Board of Trustees. In the meantime, Ambas was informed through a letter dated February 15, 1996 from her superior that her work schedule was being changed from Monday to Friday to Tuesday to Saturday. Ambas protested and requested management to submit the issue to a grievance machinery under the old CBA (Ibid, p. 2-3).chanrob1es virtua1 law library
Due to petitioner’s inaction, the union filed a notice of strike on March 13, 1996. The parties met on March 27, 1996 before the NCMB to discuss the ground rules for the negotiation. On March 29, 1996, the union received petitioner’s letter dismissing Ambas for alleged insubordination. Hence, the union amended its notice of strike to include Ambas’ dismissal. (Ibid, p. 2-3).
On April 20, 1996, both parties again discussed the ground rules for the CBA renegotiation. However, petitioner stopped the negotiations after it purportedly received information that a new group of employees had filed a petition for certification election (Ibid, p. 3).
On June 18, 1996, the union finally struck. On July 2, 1996, public respondent the Secretary of Labor and Employment assumed jurisdiction and ordered all striking employees including the union president to return to work and for petitioner to accept them back under the same terms and conditions before the actual strike. Petitioner readmitted the striking members except Ambas. The parties then submitted their pleadings including their position papers which were filed on July 17, 1996 (Ibid, pp. 2-3).
On December 2, 1996, public respondent issued an order declaring petitioner guilty of unfair labor practice on two counts and directing the reinstatement of private respondent Ambas with backwages. Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied in an Order dated May 29, 1997 (Petition, pp. 8-9)." 1
Having been denied its motion for reconsideration, petitioner sought a review of the order of the Secretary of Labor and Employment before the Court of Appeals. The appellate court dismissed the petition and affirmed the findings of the Secretary of Labor and Employment.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The dispositive portion of the decision of the Court of Appeals sets forth:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
WHEREFORE, foregoing premises considered, this Petition is DISMISSED, for being without merit in fact and in law.
With cost to petitioner.
SO ORDERED. 2
Hence, petitioner comes to this Court for redress.
Petitioner ascribes the following errors to the Court of Appeals:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED AND ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN AFFIRMING THE RULING OF THE SECRETARY OF LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT WHICH DECLARES PETITIONER LETRAN GUILTY OF REFUSAL TO BARGAIN (UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICE) FOR SUSPENDING THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING NEGOTIATIONS WITH RESPONDENT AEFL, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE SUSPENSION OF THE NEGOTIATIONS WAS BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE FILING OF A PETITION FOR CERTIFICATION ELECTION BY A RIVAL UNION WHO CLAIMED TO COMMAND THE MAJORITY OF THE EMPLOYEES WITHIN THE BARGAINING UNIT.
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED AND ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN AFFIRMING THE RULING OF THE SECRETARY OF LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT WHICH DECLARES PETITIONER LETRAN GUILTY OF UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICE FOR DISMISSING RESPONDENT AMBAS, DESPITE THE FACT THAT HER DISMISSAL WAS CAUSED BY HER INSUBORDINATE ATTITUDE, SPECIFICALLY, HER REFUSAL TO FOLLOW THE PRESCRIBED WORK SCHEDULE. 3chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The twin questions of law before this Court are the following: (1) whether petitioner is guilty of unfair labor practice by refusing to bargain with the union when it unilaterally suspended the ongoing negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) upon mere information that a petition for certification has been filed by another legitimate labor organization? (2) whether the termination of the union president amounts to an interference of the employees’ right to self-organization?
The petition is without merit.
After a thorough review of the records of the case, this Court finds that petitioner has not shown any compelling reason sufficient to overturn the ruling of the Court of Appeals affirming the findings of the Secretary of Labor and Employment. It is axiomatic that the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are conclusive and binding on the Supreme Court and will not be reviewed or disturbed on appeal. In this case, the petitioner failed to show any extraordinary circumstance justifying a departure from this established doctrine.
As regards the first issue, Article 252 of the Labor Code defines the meaning of the phrase "duty to bargain collectively," as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Art. 252. Meaning of duty to bargain collectively. — The duty to bargain collectively means the performance of a mutual obligation to meet and convene promptly and expeditiously in good faith for the purpose of negotiating an agreement with respect to wages, hours of work and all other terms and conditions of employment including proposals for adjusting any grievances or questions arising under such agreement and executing a contract incorporating such agreements if requested by either party but such duty does not compel any party to agree to a proposal or to make any concession.
Noteworthy in the above definition is the requirement on both parties of the performance of the mutual obligation to meet and convene promptly and expeditiously in good faith for the purpose of negotiating an agreement. Undoubtedly, respondent Association of Employees and Faculty of Letran (AEFL) (hereinafter, "union") lived up to this requisite when it presented its proposals for the CBA to petitioner on February 7, 1996. On the other hand, petitioner devised ways and means in order to prevent the negotiation.
Petitioner’s utter lack of interest in bargaining with the union is obvious in its failure to make a timely reply to the proposals presented by the latter. More than a month after the proposals were submitted by the union, petitioner still had not made any counter-proposals. This inaction on the part of petitioner prompted the union to file its second notice of strike on March 13, 1996. Petitioner could only offer a feeble explanation that the Board of Trustees had not yet convened to discuss the matter as its excuse for failing to file its reply. This is a clear violation of Article 250 of the Labor Code governing the procedure in collective bargaining, to wit:chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Art. 250. Procedure in collective bargaining. — The following procedures shall be observed in collective bargaining:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
(a) When a party desires to negotiate an agreement, it shall serve a written notice upon the other party with a statement of its proposals. The other party shall make a reply thereto not later than ten (10) calendar days from receipt of such notice. 4
x x x
As we have held in the case of Kiok Loy v. NLRC, 5 the company’s refusal to make counter-proposal to the union’s proposed CBA is an indication of its bad faith. Where the employer did not even bother to submit an answer to the bargaining proposals of the union, there is a clear evasion of the duty to bargain collectively. 6 In the case at bar, petitioners actuation show a lack of sincere desire to negotiate rendering it guilty of unfair labor practice.
Moreover, the series of events that transpired after the filing of the first notice of strike in January 1996 show petitioner’s resort to delaying tactics to ensure that negotiation would not push through. Thus, on February 15, 1996, or barely a few days after the union proposals for the new CBA were submitted, the union president was informed by her superior that her work schedule was being changed from Mondays to Fridays to Tuesdays to Saturdays. A request from the union president that the issue be submitted to a grievance machinery was subsequently denied. Thereafter, the petitioner and the union met on March 27, 1996 to discuss the ground rules for negotiation. However, just two days later, or on March 29, 1996, petitioner dismissed the union president for alleged insubordination. In its final attempt to thwart the bargaining process, petitioner suspended the negotiation on the ground that it allegedly received information that a new group of employees called the Association of Concerned Employees of Colegio (ACEC) had filed a petition for certification election. Clearly, petitioner tried to evade its duty to bargain collectively.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Petitioner, however, argues that since it has already submitted the union’s proposals to the Board of Trustees and that a series of conferences had already been undertaken to discuss the ground rules for negotiation such should already be considered as acts indicative of its intention to bargain. As pointed out earlier, the evidence on record belie the assertions of petitioner.
Petitioner, likewise, claims that the suspension of negotiation was proper since by the filing of the petition for certification election the issue on majority representation of the employees has arose. According to petitioner, the authority of the union to negotiate on behalf of the employees was challenged when a rival union filed a petition for certification election. Citing the case of Lakas Ng Manggagawang Makabayan v. Marcelo Enterprises, 7 petitioner asserts that in view of the pendency of the petition for certification election, it had no duty to bargain collectively with the union.
We disagree. In order to allow the employer to validly suspend the bargaining process there must be a valid petition for certification election raising a legitimate representation issue. Hence, the mere filing of a petition for certification election does not ipso facto justify the suspension of negotiation by the employer. The petition must first comply with the provisions of the Labor Code and its Implementing Rules. Foremost is that a petition for certification election must be filed during the sixty-day freedom period. The "Contract Bar Rule" under Section 3, Rule XI, Book V, of the Omnibus Rules Implementing the Labor Code, provides that: ". . . If a collective bargaining agreement has been duly registered in accordance with Article 231 of the Code, a petition for certification election or a motion for intervention can only be entertained within sixty (60) days prior to the expiry date of such agreement." The rule is based on Article 232, 8 in relation to Articles 253, 253-A and 256 of the Labor Code. No petition for certification election for any representation issue may be filed after the lapse of the sixty-day freedom period. The old CBA is extended until a new one is signed. The rule is that despite the lapse of the formal effectivity of the CBA the law still considers the same as continuing in force and effect until a new CBA shall have been validly executed. 9 Hence, the contract bar rule still applies. 10 The purpose is to ensure stability in the relationship of the workers and the company by preventing frequent modifications of any CBA earlier entered into by them in good faith and for the stipulated original period. 11
In the case at bar, the lifetime of the previous CBA was from 1989-1994. The petition for certification election by ACEC, allegedly a legitimate labor organization, was filed with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) only on May 26, 1996. Clearly, the petition was filed outside the sixty-day freedom period. Hence, the filing thereof was barred by the existence of a valid and existing collective bargaining agreement. Consequently, there is no legitimate representation issue and, as such, the filing of the petition for certification election did not constitute a bar to the ongoing negotiation. Reliance, therefore, by petitioner of the ruling in Lakas Ng Manggagawang Makabayan v. Marcelo Enterprises 12 is misplaced since that case involved a legitimate representation issue which is not present in the case at bar.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Significantly, the same petition for certification election was dismissed by the Secretary of Labor on October 25, 1996. The dismissal was upheld by this Court in a Resolution, dated April 21, 1997. 13
In view of the above, there is no doubt that petitioner is guilty of unfair labor practice by its stern refusal to bargain in good faith with respondent union.
Concerning the issue on the validity of the termination of the union president, we hold that the dismissal was effected in violation of the employees’ right to self-organization.
To justify the dismissal, petitioner asserts that the union president was terminated for cause, allegedly for insubordination for her failure to comply with new working schedule assigned to her, and pursuant to its managerial prerogative to discipline and/or dismiss its employees. While we recognize the right of the employer to terminate the services of an employee for a just or authorized cause, nevertheless, the dismissal of employees must be made within the parameters of law and pursuant to the tenets of equity and fair play. 14 The employer’s right to terminate the services of an employee for just or authorized cause must be exercised in good faith. 15 More importantly, it must not amount to interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of their right to self-organization because it would amount to, as in this case, unlawful labor practice under Article 248 of the Labor Code.
The factual backdrop of the termination of Ms. Ambas leads us to no other conclusion that she was dismissed in order to strip the union of a leader who would fight for the right of her co workers at the bargaining table. Ms. Ambas, at the time of her dismissal, had been working for the petitioner for ten (10) years already. In fact, she was a recipient of a loyalty award. Moreover, for the past ten (10) years her working schedule was from Monday to Friday. However, things began to change when she was elected as union president and when she started negotiating for a new CBA Thus, it was when she was the union president and during the period of tense and difficult negotiations when her work schedule was altered from Mondays to Fridays to Tuesdays to Saturdays. When she did not budge, although her schedule was changed, she was outrightly dismissed for alleged insubordination. 16 We quote with approval the following findings of the Secretary of Labor on this matter, to wit:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Assuming arguendo that Ms. Ambas was guilty, such disobedience was not, however, a valid ground to terminate her employment. The disputed management action was directly connected with Ms. Ambas’ determination to change the complexion of the CBA. As a matter of fact, Ms. Ambas’ unflinching position in faithfully and truthfully carrying out her duties and responsibilities to her Union and its members in getting a fair share of the fruits of their collective endeavors was the proximate cause for her dismissal, the charge insubordination being merely a ploy to give a color legality to the contemplated management action dismiss her. Thus, the dismissal of Ms. Ambas was heavily tainted with and evidently done in bad faith. Manifestly, it was designed to interfere with the members’ right to self-organization.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Admittedly, management has the prerogative to discipline its employees for insubordination. But when the exercise of such management right tends to interfere with the employees’ right to self-organization, it amounts to union-busting and is therefore a prohibited act. The dismissal of Ms. Ambas was dearly designed to frustrate the Union in its desire to forge a new CBA with the College that is reflective of the true wishes and aspirations of the Union members. Her dismissal was merely a subterfuge to get rid of her, which smacks of a pre conceived plan to oust her from the premises of the College. It has the effect of busting the Union, stripping it of its strong-willed leadership. When management refused to treat the charge of insubordination as a grievance within the scope of the Grievance Machinery, the action of the College in finally dismissing her from the service became arbitrary, capricious and whimsical, and therefore violated Ms. Ambas’ right to due process." 17
In this regard, we find no cogent reason to disturb the findings of the Court of Appeals affirming the findings of the Secretary of Labor and Employment. The right to self-organization of employees must not be interfered with by the employer on the pretext of exercising management prerogative of disciplining its employees. In this case, the totality of conduct of the employer shows an evident attempt to restrain the employees from fully exercising their rights under the law. This cannot be done under the Labor Code.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit.
Davide, Jr., C.J.
, Puno and Pardo, JJ.
, is on leave.
1. Rollo, pp. 32-34.
2. Id., at 37-38.
3. Id., at 16.
4. Emphasis supplied.
5. 141 SCRA 179, 186 (1986).
6. The Bradman Co., Inc. v. Court of Industrial Relations, 78 SCRA 10, 15 (1977).
7. 118 SCRA 422 (1982).
8. Article 232. Prohibition on Certification Election. — The Bureau shall not entertain any petition for certification election or any other action which may disturb the administration of duly registered existing collective bargaining agreements affecting the parties except under Articles 253, 253-A and 256 of this Code.
9. Pier 8 Arrastre and Stevedoring Services, Inc. v. Roldan-Confesor, 241 SCRA 294, 307 (1995).
10. National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines vs Ferrer-Calleja, 205 SCRA 478, 485 (1992).
12. Supra, note 6.
13. G.R No 128483, Association of Concerned Employees of Colegio (ACEC) vs Secretary of Labor and Employment, Et. Al.
14. Philippine Singapore Transport Services, Inc. vs NLRC, 277 SCRA 506, 512 (1997).
15. Samar II Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. NLRC, 270 SCRA 290, 295 (1997).
16. Rollo, p. 45.
17. Id., at 46.