Friday, May 31, 2013
County Must Turn Over Employee Contact Data to Union—S.C.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles County must disclose the addresses and phone numbers of employees represented by its primary labor union—including those who are not members—to the union, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Justices unanimously overturned a ruling by this district’s Court of Appeal, which said the union could only obtain the information under complex procedures allowing individual employees to opt out of disclosure.
“We conclude that, although the County’s employees have a cognizable privacy interest in their home addresses and telephone numbers, the balance of interests strongly favors disclosure of this information to the union that represents them,” Justice Carol Corrigan wrote.
While the county may institute opt-out procedures, the justice added, those must be negotiated with the union or approved by the Employee Relations Commission, which regulates the county’s relations with its employee unions, not imposed by a court.
Los Angeles County sought a writ of mandate after commission, commonly known as ERCOM, ordered it to turn the information over Service Employees International Union, Local 721. The union said it needed the information to communicate with the employees regarding a number of issues, including their agency-shop rights if they choose not to join the union, the union activities and events in which they may participate, recruitment, and investigation of grievances.
ERCOM granted the union’s request, citing relevant decisions of the National Labor Relations Board and Public Employment Relations Board and holding that the county was engaged in an unfair labor practice by refusing to disclose the information. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant denied the county’s petition for writ of mandate, finding that the stated privacy concerns were outweighed by the union’s need to obtain the information in order to carry out its responsibilities as the employees’ representative.
The Court of Appeal reversed in part, ordering that the trial court, after the parties had met and conferred, adopt a form of notice to be sent to all nonmember employees within the various bargaining units, giving them the choice of opting out of having their contact information sent to the union.
Corrigan, however, said the Court of Appeal’s decision was inconsistent with “state and federal decisions [that] have consistently held that the employer’s obligation to provide relevant information extends to information about employees who are not union members.” The justice rejected the contention that the state constitutional right to privacy prohibits the county from providing the information, and that NLRB decisions under federal law are thus irrelevant.
Corrigan also said that ERCOM’s conclusion that the information is relevant to collective bargaining was entitled to deference.
Employees, she went on to say, have a reasonable, but “somewhat reduced” expectation of privacy with respect to the disclosure of contact information that they have provided in order to obtain and keep employment. “Although we have concluded that, on balance, it was reasonable for County employees to expect that their information would not be disclosed to SEIU because of the long-standing practice in Los Angeles County, the reasonableness of this privacy expectation was reduced in light of the widespread, settled rules requiring disclosure elsewhere,” she wrote.
The jurist also concluded that disclosure of addresses and phone numbers would involve only a slight intrusion, and rejected the idea that there were feasible alternatives to disclosure. She noted that there was no evidence in the record suggesting that SEIU would use the information for harassment or other improper purpose.
“Giving SEIU this contact information will not coerce employees into joining the union. An employee who chooses not to join a union still enjoys the benefits of union representation….
Moreover, as several decisions on this subject have noted, alternative means for unions to communicate with nonmembers are often inadequate. Bulletin board postings may not meaningfully convey lengthy or complex information, and employers often monitor the materials posted….A posting provides only one-way communication and is not an avenue for unions to receive employees’ views….Other alternatives, such as union meetings and worksite visits by union representatives, are inefficient and ineffective means of communicating with large and dispersed groups of employees,”
The case was argued in the Supreme Court by Calvin House of Pasadena’s Gutierrez, Preciado & House for the county; David A. Rosenfeld of Alameda’s Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld for SEIU; and Alan G. Crowley of San Francisco’s Davis, Cowell & Bowe for several unions that joined as amici supporting SEIU.
Glenn Rothner, Jonathan Cohen and Anthony Resnick of Pasadena’s Rothner, Segall & Greenstone filed an amicus brief on behalf of several other public employee unions backing SEIU.
The case is County of Los Angeles v. Los Angeles County Employee Relations Commission (Service Employees International Union, Local 721), 13 S.O.S. 2739.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company