Californians Aware yesterday asked the author of AB 1455 to add provisions requiring cities, counties and special districts—and their employee unions— to inform the public and invite comment, at key stages of their labor bargaining.

The bill by Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra (D-San Fernando), which could go to its final vote on the Senate Floor on or after August 21, would allow most local government councils and boards to keep secret records “that reveal a local agency’s deliberative processes, impressions, evaluations, opinions, recommendations, meeting minutes, research, work products, theories, or strategy. . .”

That exemption from disclosure under the California Public Records Act, which would apply not only during negotiations but indefinitely thereafter, is now available to state agencies in their union bargaining, and AB 1455 has been consistently sold to lawmakers as simply giving local government the same protection.

But, says the CalAware letter,

the purported parity with state agency labor bargaining law is illusory, since state employers and employee bargaining units must “sunshine” their negotiations in specific public proceedings not required of cities, counties and special districts.  Government Code section 3523 requires that:

  • Employee bargaining units must present their initial negotiating proposals to the employing agency at a public meeting, at which point the proposals go on the public record. And the employers must likewise present their initial proposals or counterproposals to the employee units at a public meeting, on the record as well.
  • Except in emergency situations, bargaining on any of the proposals cannot begin until at least seven days after the public presentation, “to enable the public to become informed, and to publicly express itself regarding the proposals, as well as regarding other possible subjects of meeting and conferring and thereafter, the employer shall, in open meeting, hear public comment on all matters related to the meet and confer proposals.”
  • If the employee negotiators present new proposals in the course of bargaining, after 48 hours those proposals, and the employer agency’s position on them (if any) go on the record for public scrutiny.

If cities, counties and special districts are given the secrecy that AB 1455 would provide without these public disclosure and comment safeguards, the pay and benefits given to their unions will reach public awareness only after being locked in at the bargaining table.

These local agencies may argue that the state agency sunshine process is too burdensome and time-consuming, but that would conveniently ignore the fact that local school and community college districts are now under not only such public disclosure and comment rules but far more demanding requirements in addition, under Government Code section 3547.5:

(a) Before a public school employer enters into a written agreement with an exclusive representative covering matters within the scope of representation, the major provisions of the agreement, including, but not limited to, the costs that would be incurred by the public school employer under the agreement for the current and subsequent fiscal years, shall be disclosed at a public meeting of the public school employer in a format established for this purpose by the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

(b) The superintendent of the school district and chief business official shall certify in writing that the costs incurred by the school district under the agreement can be met by the district during the term of the agreement. This certification shall … itemize any budget revision necessary to meet the costs of the agreement in each year of its term.