The Problem

Governor Brown has signed a bill that will allow cities, counties and special districts to keep their rationales for granting pay and benefit increases secret—not just during their negotiations with employee bargaining units, but permanently.

AB 1455 by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Arleta) creates an exemption from disclosure under the California Public Records Act for

records of local agencies related to (pay and benefits bargaining with employees) that reveal a local agency’s deliberative processes, impressions, evaluations, opinions, recommendations, meeting minutes, research, work products, theories, or strategy, or that provide instruction, advice, or training to employees who do not have full collective bargaining and representation rights under that chapter.

The bill was not requested or supported by local agencies themselves, but rather by the

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 685; Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs; Association of Deputy District Attorneys; California Professional Firefighters; Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 777; Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 792; Los Angeles County Deputy Probation Officers Union; Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association; Los Angeles Police Protective League; Orange County Employees Association; Orange County Professional Firefighters Association, Local 3631; Organization of SMUD Employees; Peace Officers Research Association of California; Riverside Sheriffs’ Association; San Diego County Court Employees Association; San Luis Obispo County Employees Association; and United Public Employees.

The labor groups apparently panicked when the Orange County Board of Supervisors released such records to a blogger who asked to see them, and this disclosure, ordered by a judge over union protests, appeared to be unprecedented because few if any newspapers or other watchdogs had ever made such a request.

AB 1455 was sold by its author and backers as simply extending to local agency labor relations a strategizing confidentiality that state boards and commissions had enjoyed for years. But this purported “balance,” said Californians Aware in its request for a veto,

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 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.
By contrast at the local level, only school and community college districts are required to sunshine their bargaining under similar rules in Government Code section 3547.5, of which the California Supreme Court has observed, in San Mateo City School District v. PERB, 33 Cal.3d 850, 864 (1983): “Thus, although the public is excluded from actual negotiating sessions … its opportunity to be fully informed and to express its views is preserved.”
To preserve that opportunity, AB 1455 should have been amended to include a sunshine process that mirrors the one governing state agency employee relations in Government Code section 3523. Failing to do so means that the public could learn a good deal about goals and progress in bargaining with state employees in time to make their views heard, but would be left in the dark about city or fire district employees’ pay and benefit a negotiations—before, during and after the bargaining took place.
Thus state officials would be accountable for their employee negotiation results, but not city council members, county supervisors or special district directors.

Next: Overcoming the problem