Thursday, June 23, 2011

California Supreme Court to Decide Union's Right to Contact Fair Share Payers

The California Supreme will decide a dispute between Los Angeles County and SEIU about the union's access to fair share payers' names, addresses, and telephone numbers.  In County of Los Angeles v. Los Angeles County Employee Relations Commission, the Court of Appeal decided "non-member public employees who have not disclosed their personal information to the Union are entitled to notice and an opportunity to object before disclosure." In its review, the Supreme Court will address two questions affecting all public employee unions in California:

1. Do the state constitutional privacy interests of non-union-member public employees outweigh the interests of the union representing them in obtaining their contact information?

2. Did the Court of Appeal err in directing the trial court to apply a specific notice procedure to protect such employees' privacy rights instead of permitting the parties to determine the proper procedure?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Court of Appeals Rules Side Letter Moots Appeal of Furlough Order

In San Bernardino Police Officers Association et al., v. City of San Bernardino, Case No. E049925 (June 15, 2011), the Court of Appeal held a side letter settling disputed furloughs meant a lawsuit about the issue was moot. The case started when the City of San Bernardino authorized its City Manager to impose furloughs on police officers.

The POA claimed the threatened furloughs violated the City Charter, its MOU, and the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act. However, a few days after the furloughs started, the City and the POA agreed to a side letter ending the furloughs, extending the MOU one year, and reducing officers’ total compensation by approximately 10 percent.

After learning of the side letter, the Superior Court refused to consider the POA's request it invalidate the resolution authorizing the furloughs and declare, in advance, that any future furloughs implemented pursuant to the resolution would be unlawful.  The Court of Appeal upheld the decision, characterizing it as "a request for an advisory opinion." The Court also decided the case was too fact-specific to decide as an issue of public importance.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Union Law

On June 14th, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the state’s anti-union law, referred to as the “Budget Repair Law.” On May 26, 2011, a Wisconsin Circuit Court had invalidated Wisconsin’s anti-union law, finding the Legislature passed it in violation of the state’s open meeting law. Today’s decision overturns the Circuit Court’s ruling.

The Supreme Court found the Circuit Court decision interfered with the powers of the Legislature, violating separation of powers.  Separation of powers is a legal concept each of the three branches of government have separate rights and authority. Each branch may only exercise those powers granted by the Constitution and may not exercise any rights or powers which are exclusively granted to another branch. The Court also found the Legislature complied with state constitutional requirements by posting the bill on three bulletin boards approximately one hour and fifty minutes before the vote took place.

Wisconsin’s “Budget Repair Law” is a direct attack on public-sector unions. The bill significantly restricts the scope of bargaining and requires union re-certification every year. The law also bans local governments from deducting dues and allows union members to refuse to pay their fair share for union representation. The battle over the law now shifts to the ballot box where six of the nineteen state senators who voted for the bill face will face recall elections on July 12th.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Court: POBR Guarantees Right to See Complaints, Not Just Summaries

 In Matthew Medina v. State of California, Kasey C. Clark, Chief Counsel for the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA), scored a major victory for peace officers statewide.  The Superior Court case establishes POBR gives officers access to actual complaints against them, not just summaries or abstracts.  Prior to the Court's decision, some law enforcement departments refused to provide officers with actual complaints, providing instead brisk summaries which sanitized complaints often littered with anti-officer rhetoric and personal biases.

In its ruling, the Court stated unambiguously "the right to read the adverse comment [in a personnel file] requires disclosure of the actual adverse comments [] not merely the general nature of the comments." The ruling affirms Sacramento Police Officers Association v. Venegas, the leading case in the Court of Appeal to address peace officers' right of access to their personnel files.  Importantly, the Medina decision joined Venegas in recognizing "some might view a shield of confidentiality as a license to make false allegations of police misconduct."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wisconsin Court Strikes Down Anti-Union Law

In State of Wisconsin et al., v. Scott Fitzgerald, et al., Case No. 11CV1244, a Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge struck down Wisconsin’s anti-union law, deciding the state Legislature passed the law in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law.

In Wisconsin, Republicans in the state senate passed the "Budget Repair Law" less than two hours after announcing the vote, preventing Democrats who left the state to prevent a quorum, from returning in time. However, the Open Meetings Law requires at least two hours’ notice before the Legislature can vote on a bill.

The judge’s ruling does not affect the merits of the law and state Republicans could cure the defects by re-voting on the legislation.

Wisconsin’s “Budget Repair Law” makes it nearly impossible for public-sector unions to exist. Under the bill, unions cannot negotiate about benefits or working conditions and wage increases are capped at the rate of inflation. Members must also vote to keep their union every year. Under the law, union members do not have to pay their fair share, local governments cannot deduct dues, and state workers can stop paying dues at any time.