Pacific Legal Foundation v. Brown

Decision Date12 March 1981
Docket NumberS.F. 24168
Citation29 Cal.3d 168,624 P.2d 1215,172 Cal.Rptr. 487
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 624 P.2d 1215, 109 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2674 PACIFIC LEGAL FOUNDATION et al., Petitioners, v. Edmund G. BROWN, Jr., as Governor, etc., et al., Respondents; California State Employees' Association et al., Interveners.

Ronald A. Zumbrun and Robert K. Best, Sacramento, for petitioners.

John C. Wakefield, Los Angeles, Larry C. Larsen, Gilles Attia, A. J. Weiglein, Sacramento, A. Roger Jeanson, Haas & Najarian, San Francisco, Thomas A. Farr and Rex Reed, Springfield, Va., as amici curiae on behalf of petitioners.

Tuttle & Taylor, Raymond C. Fisher, Barbara L. Stocker, Jeffery M. Hamerling, Los Angeles, J. Anthony Kline, San Francisco, Bryon S. Georgiou, San Diego, Barbara T. Stuart, Sacramento, Jerome B. Falk, Jr., Steven L. Mayer, Howard, Prim, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady & Pollak, San Francisco, Barry Winograd, Salinas, Kristin Jensen, Robert Miller, William P. Smith, Terry Filliman, Sacramento, Gerald Becker, Martinez, and Ronald Blubaugh, Sacramento, for respondents.

Loren E. McMaster, Bernard L. Allamano, Gary P. Reynolds, Sacramento, Richard Lobel, Van Bourg, Allen, Weinberg & Roger, Stewart Weinberg and Robert J. Bezemek, San Francisco, for intervenors.

Reich, Adell, Crost & Perry, Hirsch Adell, Charles P. Scully, Donald C. Carroll, Charles P. Skully, II, Donald H. Wollett, Ronald Yank, Franklin Silver, Carroll, Burdick & McDonough, Bodkin, McCarthy, Sargent & Smith, Timothy J. Sargent, Kevin W. Horan, Los Angeles, Gillin, Jacobson & Wilson, Ralph L. Jacobson and Cynthis T. Podren, Berkley, as amicus curiae on behalf of intervenors.

TOBRINER, Justice.

Over the past 20 years, the California Legislature has enacted a series of legislative measures granting public employees, at both the state and local level, a variety of organizational and negotiating rights somewhat analogous to the rights long afforded most employees in the private sector by the federal labor relation laws of the 1930's. In the instant mandate proceeding, petitioners have mounted a sweeping constitutional challenge to one of the most recent of these public labor relations measures, the State Employer-Employee Relations Act (SEERA), enacted in 1977 to regulate the state's labor relations with state employees. (Stats.1977, ch. 1159, § 4, p. 3751, codified in Gov.Code, § 3512 et seq.) 1 Petitioners principally contend that SEERA is unconstitutional on its face because it allegedly conflicts with the "merit system" of employment embodied in the civil service provisions of article VII of the California Constitution, and, in particular, with the powers that article VII assertedly assigns exclusively to the jurisdiction of the State Personnel Board. On the basis of these constitutional contentions, petitioners seek a writ of mandate striking down the 1977 statute and compelling the various respondent public officers and agencies to conduct their operations without regard to the provisions of SEERA.

For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that SEERA is not unconstitutional on its face. First, we shall point out that the collective bargaining process established by SEERA does not conflict with the general merit principle of civil service employment established as a constitutional precept by article VII. As we shall explain, although the history and language of article VII demonstrate a clear intent to eliminate the "spoils system" in public employment by raising the principle of appointment and promotion on the basis of merit to constitutional stature, free from potential legislative encroachment, the provisions of SEERA do not conflict with this constitutionally enshrined merit principle. On the contrary, as we shall see, the Legislature carefully crafted the provisions of SEERA with the constitutional mandate of article VII firmly in mind, explicitly reaffirming the continued application of the merit principle in the preamble of the act and fashioning the major elements of the act in a manner calculated to minimize potential conflict with the merit principle.

Second, we shall explain that SEERA does not conflict with article VII in reserving the ultimate salary setting decision with regard to state civil service employees to the Governor and the Legislature, rather than assigning the matter of salary determination to the State Personnel Board. As we shall see, neither the current version of article VII nor its constitutional predecessor contains any language explicitly authorizing the State Personnel Board to set salaries. Although petitioners argue that the State Personnel Board's designated authority to "classify" positions in the civil service necessarily carries with it the authority to set the salaries for such classifications, consistent legislative practice, judicial construction and, indeed, the State Personnel Board's own interpretation of its constitutional mandate, all refute the petitioners' position. While the State Personnel Board's classification of positions may well operate to constrain the discretion of the Governor and Legislature in establishing salaries, SEERA's provisions do not on their face pose any conflict with the Personnel Board's exercise of its constitutional classification authority.

Finally, we conclude that the provisions of SEERA granting the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) initial jurisdiction to investigate and adjudicate "unfair practices" are not rendered unconstitutional on their face by virtue of the State Personnel Board's authority, under article VII, section 3, subdivision (a), to "review disciplinary actions" against civil service employees. As we point out, whatever the scope of the State Personnel Board's authority with respect to disciplinary actions there is a substantial area in which PERB's unfair practice jurisdiction does not overlap with the State Personnel Board's jurisdiction at all. Accordingly, for that reason alone, the statutory provision could not properly be invalidated on its face in this proceeding.

Moreover, even in those cases in which the jurisdictions of the two agencies do overlap, the mere possibility of conflict does not call for a drastic or inflexible rule totally curtailing one agency's jurisdiction at the expense of the other's. Instead, we must harmonize the competing procedural schemes in a fashion that will best serve the policies underlying each agency's functions with least injury to the functions of the other. As we point out, our court has applied such a harmonizing principle in the face of similar, potential jurisdictional conflicts in recent cases, and other jurisdictions have adopted similar approaches in dealing with disputes between agencies with functions comparable to the State Personnel Board and PERB.

Thus, we shall conclude that SEERA is not unconstitutional on its face, and that the requested writs of mandate should be denied.

1. Background and description of the provisions of SEERA.

Prior to 1961, public employees in California enjoyed no formal rights to participate in the decision-making processes which determined the terms and conditions of their employment. In 1961, the evolution of public employee rights in this state began with the enactment of the George Brown Act (Stats.1961, ch. 1964, § 1, pp. 4141-4142, now codified in §§ 3525-3536). As originally enacted, the act applied to employees of the state, cities, counties, school districts and institutions of higher education, granting such employees the right to join employee organizations of their choosing, and requiring public employers to "meet and confer" with employee organizations prior to undertaking action on "all matters relating to employment conditions and employer-employee relations."

Although it represented a significant first step, the George Brown Act omitted a number of key elements that have proven to be important factors in formulating peaceful labor relations in the private sector. Thus the act did not provide any mechanism for recognizing an employee organization as the exclusive representative of a group of employees, and placed no obligation on either the employer or employees to attempt to reach an agreement on terms and conditions of employment, i. e., to negotiate in good faith. Moreover, the act afforded the parties no explicit authority to reach binding agreements and did not establish an expert labor relations agency with authority to oversee the process and devise appropriate remedies for improper conduct by employees or employers.

Subsequent legislative and gubernatorial actions over the past decade and a half have been aimed, in large part, in overcoming these deficiencies and in tailoring the labor relations process to the special conditions of different segments of the public labor force. In 1965, the Winton Act (Stats.1965, ch. 2041, § 1, p. 4660) expanded the "meet and confer" rights of public school employees, and in 1968, the Legislature enacted the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) (Stats.1968, ch. 1390, § 1, p. 2725, codified at § 3500 et seq.) to provide a more structured collective bargaining process for most local government employees. (See Glendale City Employees Association, Inc. v. City of Glendale (1975) 15 Cal.3d 328, 334-338, 124 Cal.Rptr. 513, 540 P.2d 609.)

The early 1970's brought an increasing demand among state employees for a formal system of collective bargaining that would provide them with a more meaningful role in establishing the terms and conditions of their employment. (See King, Deliver Us From Evil: A Public History of California's Civil Service System (1979) p. 51.) In response, Governor Reagan in March 1971 issued an executive order centralizing the "meet and confer" process by designating one state official, chosen by the Governor, to be responsible for meeting and conferring with employee organizations for the purpose of reaching an agreement on salary and...

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    ...pose a present total and fatal conflict with applicable constitutional prohibitions." (Pacific Legal Foundation v. Brown (1981) 29 Cal.3d 168, 180–181, 172 Cal.Rptr. 487, 624 P.2d 1215 ; accord, Arcadia Unified School Dist. v. State Dept. of Education (1992) 2 Cal.4th 251, 267, 5 Cal.Rptr.2......
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