BACKGROUND:
In or about 2002, the District entered into a "Master Benefits Agreement" (Agreement) with unions representing its employees concerning hospital-medical, dental, vision group coverage, group life insurance coverage, and the District's employee assistance program. The unions are referred to in the Agreement as the "Exclusive Representatives" of the employees. Pursuant to the Agreement, the District was to convene, and the Exclusive Representatives were to participate in, the JLMBC. The JLMBC's purpose was to "contain the costs of the District's Health Benefits Program while maintaining and, when feasible, improving the quality of the benefits available to employees."

Prior to adoption of the Agreement, the District's six bargaining units each had a separate article in their collective bargaining agreements that addressed health benefits. Those articles were inconsistent, resulting in coverage disparities. One of the Agreement's purposes was to ensure common benefits throughout the District. Under the Agreement, the District's health benefits program consisted of "group benefit plans recommended by the Joint Labor/Management Benefits Committee and approved by the Board under which eligible District employees (and their eligible dependents) receive hospital, medical, dental, and vision care coverage. The purpose of the Health Benefits Program is to provide quality health care to the District's employees, retirees, and their eligible dependents and survivors."

The JLMBC was composed of "one voting and one non-voting District Member" (District Members); six "Employee Members," one from each of the Exclusive Representatives; and the "Chair" who was to be nominated by the president of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild and confirmed by a simple majority of the regular voting members. Each Exclusive Representative could appoint nonvoting members in proportion to the size of each bargaining unit. The JLMBC had authority to:

"1. review the District's Health Benefits Program and effect any changes to the program it deems necessary to contain costs while maintaining the quality of the benefits available to employees (this includes, but is not limited to, the authority to substitute other plans for the District's existing health benefits plans);

"2. recommend the selection, replacement, and evaluation of benefits consultants;

"3. recommend the selection, replacement, and evaluation of benefit plan providers;

"4. review and make recommendations regarding communications to faculty and staff regarding the health benefits program and their use of health care services under it;

"5. review and make recommendations regarding benefit booklets, descriptive literature, and enrollment forms;

"6. study recurring enrollee concerns and complaints and make recommendations for their resolution;

"7. participate in an annual review of the District's administration of the Health Benefits Program;

"8. review and make recommendations about the District's health benefits budget; and

"9. if health care legislation that necessitates modification of the District's Health Benefits Program is enacted before the termination of this agreement, assess the effects of such legislation and make recommendations to the District and the Exclusive Representatives about appropriate action to take."

Any action taken by the JLMBC required approval by the affirmative vote of the voting District Member and all but one of the voting Employee Members at a meeting at which a quorum was present. The Agreement provided that a quorum consisted of the voting District Member and any five voting Employee Members. The JLMBC had to submit any proposed changes to the board of trustees (presumably the District's board of trustees) (Board) for its consideration. In order to continue to provide quality health care to the District's employees, retirees, and eligible dependents at a reasonable and sustainable cost, the JLMBC annually had to report to the Board on its actions and activities to mitigate increases to the cost of the health benefits program.

In 2002, the District adopted board rule 101702.10, which provided, "The District shall convene a Joint Labor/Management Benefits Committee (JLMBC) as prescribed by the Master Agreement between the District and the exclusive representatives of its employees. The role, composition, and authority of the Committee are specified in Section IV of the Master Agreement. Section IV of that Agreement (as it now reads or as it may be revised by the parties from time to time) is, by this reference, incorporated herein as if set forth in full."

McKee, on behalf of himself and Californians Aware, submitted a letter to the Board and the JLMBC asserting that the JLMBC was a "legislative body" of the District, which had been holding meetings that did not conform to the public notice and open meeting requirements of the Brown Act. McKee demanded that the District publicly acknowledge in a letter to him that the JLMBC was a "legislative body" under the Brown Act and that all future JLMBC meetings would comply with the Brown Act. Dr. Susan Aminoff, the Chair of the JLMBC, responded that the JLMBC was not a "Brown Act committee."

Petitioners filed their verified petition for writ of mandate, an injunction, and declaratory relief for the JLMBC's alleged violations of the Brown Act. In their petition, petitioners alleged, among other things, that a controversy existed between petitioners and the JLMBC concerning "(1) the legal rights of members of the public to proper and timely notice of the business to be 977*977 transacted by the JLMBC and to an opportunity to provide input to the JLMBC prior to or during the JLMBC's discussion of that business; and (2) the ministerial duties imposed upon the JLMBC by the Brown Act." The petition sought a declaration that the JLMBC is a "legislative body" under the Brown Act and a peremptory writ of mandate ordering the JLMBC to comply with the Brown Act's requirements. Petitioners filed a motion for "Peremptory Writ of Mandate and for Declaratory Relief."

The trial court denied petitioners' petition for writ of mandate. In its order denying the petition, the trial court referred to the California Attorney General's publicly issued opinion that the JLMBC is not required to comply with the Brown Act. The trial court stated that the petition implicated two statutory schemes—the Brown Act and the EERA. According to the trial court, the purpose of the Brown Act, an open meeting law, is to require local entities to conduct their business in public, and the purpose of the EERA is to require public school districts, including community college districts, to recognize and bargain collectively with labor unions representing school district employees. The trial court noted that there is a "tension" between the open meeting requirements of the Brown Act and the closed-door collective bargaining provided by the EERA. The trial court opined that the Legislature resolved that tension with section 3549.1, subdivision (a), which provides that meetings and negotiations between management and labor are not subject to the Brown Act.

The trial court rejected petitioners' attempt to distinguish meetings conducted by the JLMBC from labor-management negotiations and observed that the District and its employees' unions had agreed to divide their negotiations into subgroups, one of which was the "particularly complex" subject of health benefits. The trial court said that the parties created the JLMBC, "to filter out the changes that are to be brought to the negotiating table by requiring some degree of consensus by both labor and management members of the JLMBC in order to submit a change to the board of trustees for its consideration." The trial court concluded, "The activities of the JLMBC are part of the collective bargaining process and the intent of the legislature is that those activities are not to be done in public."

MORE INFORMATION

STATUS: CalAware loses argument about the application of the Brown Act.

FULL DOCUMENTATION:
Opening Brief
Judgement & Order
Reply Brief
Petition for Rehearing
Order Modifying Opinion