Friday, June 22, 2001
Appeals Court Strikes Down Orange Superior Court Labor Rule as Being Too Restrictive
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Regulations governing labor organizing among employees of the Orange Superior Court make it unreasonably difficult for workers to consider switching unions, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The court’s mandate that 50 percent of employees in any bargaining group must petition for a decertification vote is too high, Justice James A. McIntyre of Div. One said.
The ruling is a victory for the plaintiff Service Employees International Union, Local 660, which last year sought a vote to decertify the existing union but mustered support in writing from only 30 percent of eligible Superior Court employees.
The Court of Appeal declined Local 660’s request to order a vote to proceed based on the gathered signatures and did not indicate whether 30 percent, the amount in place before 1990, would be considered reasonable. But the panel did order the Superior Court to jettison the 50 percent requirement in its employee relations regulations, part 5, Art. XXV, Sec. 10.
McIntyre noted that the whole point of the preliminary requirement of a showing of interest in changing unions is to avoid wasting time and money with an election if there is not enough worker interest in making a switch. The point is not to finally determine which union the employees want, he said.
“Under Section 10, however, the showing of interest required to have a decertification election is more onerous and requires greater support from the employees than actually winning the election,” he said. “Pursuant to Section 10, signatures from 50 percent of all the employees in a bargaining unit must be collected in 30 days to simply call for a decertifcation election; in contrast, the incumbent union will be decertified if a majority of those casting ballots in a secret ballot election vote in favor of it. Such a rule is neither consistent with protecting the rights of employees to be represented by unions of their choosing, nor with the purpose of the showing of interest requirement in general.”
Sec. 10 also limits the signature gathering to the 30-day period that begins nine months prior to the expiration of a labor contract or memorandum of understanding. That restriction is fairly common in labor regulations and the court did not criticize it.
The Orange Superior Court, like superior courts around the state, is relatively new to the business of direct employment and dealing with bargaining groups. The approximately 1,300 court workers represented by the Orange County Employees Association were employees of Orange County until the reconfiguration of trial courts that took place over the last five years.
At the same time legislation was approved transferring responsibility for court funding from the counties directly to the state, most court deputy clerks, judicial assistants and clerical staff were transferred from county or state employee status to court employment.
In 1990, when Orange Superior Court employees were still on the Orange County payroll, the court and the county both changed their regulations to require a 50 percent, instead of a 30 percent, threshold for setting up a vote. The move came at the suggestion of an Orange County Employees Association official, who said it would bring labor stability.
“It is not surprising that soon after OCEA became the exclusively recognized employee organization for [the Superior Court’s] employees, it recommended that the showing of interest signature requirement be raised from 30 percent to 50 percent to ‘create a more stable labor environment...,’” McIntyre said. “Such an increase far better protects OCEA’s status as an incumbent union. However, rules or policies that might promote a stable labor environment cannot be used to abrogate or circumvent the strong protection afforded the right of employees to be represented by the union of their choosing.”
The case is Service Employees International Union v. Superior Court, D037381.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company