Los Angeles County Civil Service Com. v. Superior Court

Decision Date29 December 1978
Docket NumberAFL-CIO
Citation151 Cal.Rptr. 547,23 Cal.3d 55,588 P.2d 249
Parties, 588 P.2d 249, 100 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2854 LOS ANGELES COUNTY CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Respondent; LOS ANGELES COUNTY EMPLOYEES UNION, LOCAL 434, Service Employees International Union,et al., Real Parties in Interest. L.A. 30878.
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court

Geffner & Satzman and Leo Geffner, Los Angeles, for petitioner.

John B. Clausen, County Counsel (Contra Costa), and Arthur W. Walenta, Jr., Asst. County Counsel, Martinez, as amici curiae on behalf of petitioner.

No appearance for respondent.

John H. Larson, County Counsel, William F. Stewart, Joe Ben Hudgens and Steven L. Houston, Deputy County Counsel, Los Angeles, for real parties in interest.

NEWMAN, Justice.

In this case we must reconcile two sections of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA). 1 Section 3500 declares that the MMBA shall not supersede local charters, ordinances, and rules that establish civil service systems or other methods of administering employer-employee relations. 2 Section 3505 requires governing bodies of local agencies or their properly designated representatives to meet and confer as to conditions of employment with representatives of employee organizations. 3

Since we conclude that the Legislature did not intend to exempt counties with civil service systems from the meet-and-confer requirement, we also consider the constitutionality of requiring chartered counties and cities to comply with the MMBA. We rule that the meet-and-confer requirement is not inconsistent with a charter provision that requires a civil service commission to hold public hearings before amending its rules. Therefore requiring Los Angeles County to meet and confer with employee unions before amending its civil service rules does not, we hold, offend the home-rule provisions of the California Constitution.

Article IX of the Los Angeles County Charter provides for the civil service. The civil service commission, created by section 30 of the charter, shall "prescribe, amend and enforce rules for the classified service, which shall have the force and effect of law. . . ." (Charter § 34.) Those rules are to provide: "For layoffs or for mandatory reductions in lieu of layoff . . . for reasons of economy or lack of work" (§ 34(18)); "For transfer from one position to a similar position in the same class and grade and for reinstatement within one year of persons who without fault or delinquency on their part are separated from the service or reduced" (§ 34(10)); "For the discharge or reduction in rank or compensation after appointment or promotion is complete . . ." (§ 34(13)); and "For the adoption and amendment of rules only after public notice and hearing" (§ 34(16)). 4

In February and March 1976 the commission held hearings concerning amendments to its rules governing layoffs and grade reductions in lieu of layoff. It sent notice of the hearings to several employee unions, but union representatives attended under protest. They claimed that section 3505 of the MMBA required the commission to meet and confer before amending the rules, which the commission refused to do.

Without waiving the asserted right to meet and confer the union representatives expressed their views at the hearings. They supported layoffs based on straight seniority. County management preferred reducing in grade higher ranked employees to displace lower-ranked (though possibly more senior) employees. Displaced employees would be laid off. After the hearings the commission adopted amendments supporting management's position. 5

In April 1976 the unions petitioned the superior court for a writ of mandate to compel the commission to set aside the amended rules and to meet and confer before adopting any rules regarding layoffs or reductions in lieu of layoff. The court issued the writ. In this proceeding we consider the propriety of the lower court's action.

The commission maintains that, because of the nonpreemption language in section 3500, it should not be required to comply with provisions of the MMBA that interfere with its administration of employer-employee relations. Further it asserts that, under article XI, sections 3 and 4 of the California Constitution, the Legislature does not have authority to require bargaining over matters governed by the county charter that, except for the charter, would be within the scope of representation under the MMBA. 6

The meaning of "meet and confer"

At the outset we note that a meet-and-confer session amounts to much more than the public hearing authorized by the Los Angeles County Charter. Section 3505 of the MMBA requires governing bodies or their representatives to "meet and confer (with employee representatives) in good faith regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment" and to "consider fully" such employee presentations. Section 3505.1 provides that, if the representatives successfully reach an agreement, they shall jointly prepare a nonbinding memorandum of understanding. 7

The meet-and-confer requirement means that "a public agency, or such representatives as it may designate, and representatives of recognized employee organizations, shall have the mutual obligation personally to meet and confer . . . promptly upon request by either party and continue for a reasonable period of time in order to exchange freely information, opinions, and proposals, and to endeavor to reach agreement on matters within the scope of representation prior to the adoption by the public agency of its final budget for the ensuing year" (§ 3505). Thus a public agency must meet with employee representatives (1) promptly on request; (2) personally; (3) for a reasonable period of time; (4) to exchange information freely; and (5) to try to agree on matters within the scope of representation. Though the process is not binding, it requires that the parties seriously "attempt to resolve differences and reach a common ground." (Placentia Fire Fighters v. City of Placentia (1976) 57 Cal.App.3d 9, 25, 129 Cal.Rptr. 126, 138.) The public agency must fully consider union presentations; it is not at liberty to grant only a perfunctory review of written suggestions submitted by a union.

In contrast the character of a public hearing may vary according to " the subject of the hearing, the nature of the board or person holding the hearing and nature of the board or person to be heard." (Silver Burdett Co. v. State Board of Education (1940) 36 Cal.App.2d 714, 718, 98 P.2d 533, 536.) It may be only "the opportunity to present statements, arguments, or contentions in writing, with or without opportunity to present the same orally." (§ 11425; see also Davis, Administrative Law (6th ed. 1977) pp. 241-247, 272.) As Justice Kaus pointed out in the Court of Appeal opinion vacated by our hearing this case, "a public hearing by a legislative body is often nothing but an order to show cause why tentatively predetermined action should not be taken."

Are counties with civil service systems exempt from the MMBA's meet-and-confer requirement?

According to its section 3500 the MMBA has two purposes: (1) to promote full communication between public employers and employees; (2) to improve person nel management and employer-employee relations within the various public agencies. Those purposes are to be achieved by establishing methods for resolving disputes over employment conditions and for recognizing the right of public employees to organize and be represented by employee organizations. Section 3500 states, however: "Nothing contained herein shall be deemed to supersede the provisions of existing state law and the charters, ordinances, and rules of local public agencies which establish and regulate a merit or civil service system or which provide for other methods of administering employer-employee relations . . . ." Those words, the commission asserts, exempt it from the meet-and-confer requirement. 8

The meaning of those words was discussed in Huntington Beach Police Officers' Assn. v. City of Huntington Beach (1976) 58 Cal.App.3d 492, 500-503, 129 Cal.Rptr. 893, and in Los Angeles County Firefighters Local 1014 v. City of Monrovia (1972) 24 Cal.App.3d 289, 294-295, 101 Cal.Rptr. 78. Those cases recognize that section 3500 reserves to local agencies the right to pass ordinances and promulgate regulations consistent with the purposes of the MMBA. To extend a broader insulation from MMBA's requirements would allow local rules to undercut the minimum rights that the MMBA guarantees. (See Grodin, Public Employee Bargaining in California: The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act in the Courts (1972) 23 Hastings L.J. 719, 724.)

The commission suggests that civil service rules carve out a particular area in employee-employer relations that should remain untouched by the meet-and-confer requirement. It maintains that, since Huntington and Monrovia, supra, dealt with general regulations and not civil service rules, they are distinguishable. The danger of undermining employee rights, though, is equally apparent if civil service commissions may freely and without negotiation alter the content of their rules.

The MMBA's stated purpose to guarantee full communication between employers and employees can hardly be met if the commission is not required directly to address employee concerns concerns that frequently, of course, will be consistent with merit system principles. To carve out for the commission a unilateral authority over civil service rules would place an unjustifiable burden on public employees' right to representation. On the other hand, guaranteeing public employees an opportunity to have their views seriously considered (with the possibility that a nonbinding agreement will be adopted) serves employees' interests without destroying the commission's merit objectives.

Section 3505 extends to all matters "regarding wages, hours, and other...

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