Governor Jerry Brown began his term as California’s Governor this January announcing ambitious plans to restructure state and local finances. His proposals have set off a fire storm of controversy. At this point, he has yet to announce any plans to propose new legislation dealing with employment and labor relations issues. However, his appointment of long term advisor Marty Morgenstern and attorney Ronald Yank to high ranking positions suggests an ambitious agenda may be on the way.
If the past is prologue, then the next few years may be a wild ride for California employers. With Brown’s resounding victory and the Democrats holding 60% and 65% majorities in the State Senate and Assembly respectively, California employers in both the public and private sectors may have cause to hold tightly to their seats as we careen at high speed into this new decade.
Is the past prologue? If so, get ready! When Jerry Brown was first elected Governor in 1974, the Legislature passed and he signed a number of bills which permanently changed the labor relations landscape in California. Three major statutes were passed governing employment relations in public employment, creating the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) and establishing collective bargaining rights for state, public university and public school (K-14) employees. A major private sector bill created the Agriculture Labor Relations Act which for the first time gave collective bargaining rights to farm workers.
When Gray Davis was Governor (1999-2003) the labor relations agenda was even heavier. Davis signed bills which reinstated the eight hour day in private employment for overtime purposes, significantly increased the minimum wage, created paid family leave, strengthened prevailing wage laws, added the California worker notification law (California WARN) when mass layoffs and plant closures occur, and revised the California law applicable to city, county and special district employees (the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act) to place these agencies under PERB’s jurisdiction and to require employer recognition of labor unions based solely on petitions without the need for elections. The Davis’ Administration also approved increased retirement benefits under the Public Employment Retirement System (PERS) and twice enacted statutes allowing for binding interest arbitration in police and fire labor negotiations. (Both of these enactments were later declared unconstitutional.)
Will Jerry Brown II bring a similar legislative agenda as he did before and as occurred under Davis? Only time will tell.
As a matter of full disclosure, it must be noted that Republican governors have not rebuked every legislative advance for employees. It was Ronald Reagan who signed the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act in 1969, giving local government employees collective bargaining rights for the first time in California. Nonetheless, it is clear that the labor agenda has fared much better under Democratic Governors than it has under a Republican. The history of the next four years remains to be written.