The California Legislature is working hard to push bills through to the general assembly and senate votes that are scheduled for September. A number of bills making their way to that final vote are noteworthy for public employers.
PERB, Firefighters and the Right-to-Sue
Right-to-sue notices may not be just for Department of Fair Housing and Employment (DFEH) complaints. If Senate Bill No. 548 passes, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) will have the authority, and may be required, to issue right-to-sue notices to an employee organization that represents firefighters under two circumstances: (1) if PERB dismisses the unfair practice charge for failing state a viable claim or (2) if PERB has not issued a decision within 150 days from the filing of the unfair practice charge. The California Professional Firefighters organization explains in its analysis of the bill that PERB was supposed to have provided a “more efficient and timely resolution of labor disputes between public employers and public employee firefighters”; however, PERB’s workload has caused delays “that match or exceed those previously experienced in superior court.” The California Professional Firefighters further argue that since they are prohibited by law from striking during labor disputes, allowing union access to superior court would decrease delay in resolving those disputes. The bill would require that litigation be initiated within one year from the right-to-sue notice. The Senate Floor passed the bill on May 4, 2017, and ordered it to the Assembly.
Local Public Agencies Say “What About Us?”
Existing law exempts certain state agency documents related to the collective bargaining process from the California Public Records Act. However, under current law, the exemption applies only to state agencies and not local public agencies. Assembly Bill 1455, if passed, would establish the same public records exemption for local public agencies. Specifically, documents regarding collective bargaining that reveal the local agency’s “deliberative process, impressions, evaluations, opinions, recommendations, meeting minutes, research, work product, theories, or strategy, or that provide instruction, advice or training to employees who do not have full collective bargaining and representation rights” would not need to be disclosed. The legislation is a result of a superior court judge’s decision that the public records exemption for state agencies did not extend to local public agencies. The bill is in the Assembly and recently passed review by the Judiciary Committee.
Conflict of Interests in Collective Bargaining
Senate Bill No. 371 is one of the several bills aimed at changing statutes that concern collective bargaining. Existing law is that an individual who is covered by a collective bargaining agreement is not allowed to represent the agency in employer/employee negotiations—which seems to be an obvious requirement to avoid conflicts of interest. Senate Bill No. 371 proposes to modify the statutory language in Government Code section 3505.9 from “an individual who will be covered by a memorandum of understanding” to “an individual who will be affected, directly or indirectly, by a memorandum of understanding. The bill proposes a definition of “affected, directly or indirectly” that would include anyone “who may derive increased benefits or compensation from the existence of the memorandum of understanding.” Several employee organizations are opposed to the bill, including the California Professional Firefighters, which noted in its opposition to the bill that a public agency is capable of determining who should represent the agency in collective bargaining. The bill failed to pass the Senate Committee on Public Employment and Retirement; however, on May 9, reconsideration was granted. Stay tuned.
Firefighters Want Out of PERB – Peace Officers Want In
Presently, most peace officer employee organizations are not within PERB’s jurisdiction. The author of Assembly Bill 530 contends that adding peace officer associations into PERB’s jurisdiction “will allow peace officer unions to use the expertise of PERB and give smaller unions the ability to defend themselves against unfair labor practices.” The further argument in support of the bill is that labor disputes involving peace officer unions “go to the Superior Court, which can be costly and time-consuming,” which is in direct contrast to the firefighters’ argument noted in SB 548 (discussed above) that PERB takes too long to resolve disputes. AB 530 is supported by several peace officer associations, and was passed by the Assembly Committee on Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security and sent to the Appropriations Committee. There, it was placed in the suspense file on May 10, 2017, to allow for consideration on the fiscal impact on PERB.
If interested in following the progress of any of these bills, the California Legislative Information website allows individuals to track bills to receive updates.