Wednesday, October 16, 2002
County Can Require Employees to Use Own Vehicles for Work—C.A.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The Los Angeles County Charter provision requiring the county to reimburse employees who travel on county business does not preclude an agency from requiring its workers to use their personal vehicles for business-related travel, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
In a Sept. 13 opinion, certified yesterday for publication, Div. Eight rejected a claim by the Los Angeles County Association of Environmental Health Specialists that the county has been violating the charter by requiring the union’s members—who inspect restaurants, grocery stores, and hotels and motels for the Department of Health Services—to travel from site to site in their own cars.
The union’s suit arose following the expiration two years ago of the agreement between the union and the county. After a yearlong impasse, the county notified the union last October that it was going to unilaterally implement its “last, best, and final offer,” which the Board of Supervisors approved.
That offer incorporated a provision applicable to other county employees, granting management “the right to determine which employees are required to provide a private vehicle to carry out County services.” More than 150 employees then protested the provision by refusing to use their own vehicles, resulting in their being suspended for a day, before the union filed its lawsuit.
The county argued that it had been the department’s practice for 30 years to require inspectors to use their own vehicles, that the number of inspections would decline by 33 to 50 percent if the county had to provide the inspectors with cars, and that the public health and finances would be negatively impacted if the union prevailed.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe ruled for the county. He held that neither the charter nor state labor laws barred the county from requiring employees to use their own vehicles for work.
Justice Paul Boland, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed with the trial judge.
The justice distinguished California Assn. of Professional Employees v. County of Los Angeles (1977) 74 Cal.App.3d 38, in which the court upheld a challenge to the rate paid by the county as transportation reimbursement. The panel in that case cited, among other reasons, the fact that the employees involved had the right to decline to use their personal vehicles.
That ruling, Boland said, cannot be stretched to the conclusion that every county employee has the right to refuse to use his or her personal vehicle for work.
The CAPE ruling “did not depend upon the proposition that County employees could refuse to use their personal cars,” the justice reasoned, but merely cited that as one factor in upholding the right of the Board of Supervisors to determine the reimbursement rate.
Besides, Boland wrote, the case does not apply because LACAEHS was challenging the required use of personal vehicles, not the adequacy of the reimbursement rate.
On another issue, Boland said that labor laws do not prohibit the county from unilaterally implementing the obligation to use personal vehicles, rejecting the union’s reliance on Litton Financial Printing Div. v. NLRB(1991) 501 U.S. 190.
Litton held that after a collective bargaining agreement expires, an employer may not—without bargaining to impasse—unilaterally implement a change in conditions of employment other than with respect to provisions that do not continue in effect during bargaining, such as dues check-off, no-strike clauses, and arbitration clauses.
Because impasse had been reached, Boland explained, the county had the right to unilaterally implement changes in employment conditions, except as prohibited by statute. “No statutory basis exists for the Union’s asserted right not to use personal vehicles on County business,” he declared.
The jurist wrote:
“In short, nothing distinguishes the mileage provision, and management’s right to determine which employees are required to use their own vehicles, from any other term or condition of employment. After impasse was reached, the County had the right to implement those provisions, just as it had the right to implement the other provisions of its last, best and final offer.”
Attorneys on appeal were, Anthony R. Segall and Emma Leheny of Rothner, Segall & Greenstone for the union and Lloyd W. Pellman, County Counsel, and Principal Deputy County Counsel Lester J. Tolnai for the county.
The case is Los Angeles County Association of Environmental Health Specialists v. County of Los Angeles, B154672.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company