On July 5, 2011, a new law that will add a union-presence to public sector personnel and merit commissions passed in the California Senate and awaits signature by the Governor.  AB 455, authored by Nora Campos (D – San Jose), allows the union representing the largest number of a public agency’s employees to appoint half of the members of a public agency’s personnel or merit system commission.  Such appointments are now usually made by the governing board of the agency itself.

AB 455 calls for inclusion of a new section of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, which will be California Government section 3507.7.  Subsection (a) would provide that, “When a public agency has established a personnel commission or merit commission to administer personnel rules or a merit system, the governing board of the public agency shall appoint one-half of the members of the commission, and one-half of the members of the commission, nominated by the recognized employee organization, shall be appointed by the governing board of the public agency.  Whenever multiple bargaining units are represented by different recognized employee organizations, the employee organization representing the largest number of employees shall be the one empowered to designate commission members pursuant to this section.”

Subsection (b) provides that all the members of the commission will mutually select a chairperson as an additional member.  This chairperson would likely serve as a “swing vote” in splits along management-union lines, and he/she could have a great deal of power on future commissions/boards.

The bill is sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (“AFSME”), and has the support of several other labor organizations.  The unions’ rationale for the bill is to remedy what the unions claim to be a pro-employer disposition of commission appointees.  In contrast, The League of California Cities has encouraged Governor Brown to veto the legislation. It argues that, among other things, AB 455 represents a substantial intrusion on what has traditionally been an area in which public agency boards and elected leaders are intended to exercise discretion.

Allowing unions such a substantial role in the process would by many accounts greatly change the existing landscape.  Indeed, by its own terms, the law provides the right to control appointments to the largest union (at least the union representing the most employees in the agency).      

There is some thought in legal circles that AB 455 may violate the constitutional rights of charter cities and counties by violating principles of “home rule.”  If AB 455 is signed into law, these constitutional concerns will likely be answered by the Courts.