People ex rel. Seal Beach Police officers Assn. v. City of Seal Beach

Decision Date23 August 1984
Citation36 Cal.3d 591,205 Cal.Rptr. 794,685 P.2d 1145
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 685 P.2d 1145, 120 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2309 The PEOPLE ex rel. SEAL BEACH POLICE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION et al., Plaintiff and Appellant, v. CITY OF SEAL BEACH, et al., Defendants and Respondents. L.A. 31831.

George Deukmejian, Former Atty. Gen., and John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Richard D. Martland, Asst. Atty. Gen., Henry G. Ullerich, Deputy Atty. Gen., George W. Shaeffer, Jr., Silver, Kreisler, Goldwasser & Shaeffer and Silver & Kreisler, Newport Beach, for plaintiff and appellant.

David P. Clisham and Carroll, Burdick & McDonough, San Francisco, as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiff and appellant.

Richards, Watson, Dreyfuss & Gershon, Mitchell E. Abbott, Gregory W. Stepanicich, Los Angeles, and John W. Holbrook for defendants and respondents.

Ira Reiner, City Atty., Los Angeles, Frederick N. Merkin, Sr. Asst. City Atty., Molly B. Roff, Deputy City Atty., George Agnost, City Atty., San Francisco, and Burk E. Delventhal, Deputy City Atty., as amici curiae on behalf of defendants and respondents.

KAUS, Justice.

The issue is whether the city council of a charter city must comply with the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act's (MMBA) (Gov.Code, § 3500 et seq.) "meet-and-confer" requirement (Gov.Code, § 3505) before it proposes an amendment to the city charter concerning the terms and conditions of public employment. We hold that the MMBA requirement must be met.

I

On March 8, 1977, the voters of the City of Seal Beach adopted three charter amendments. 1 These amendments had been put on the ballot by the city council pursuant to its constitutional power to propose charter amendments (Cal. Const., art. XI, § 3, subd. (b)). One amendment required the immediate firing, subject to an administrative hearing procedure, of any city employee who participated in a strike; it also prohibited the city council from granting amnesty or otherwise rehiring any striking public employee. 2 The adoption of the amendments was certified by the city council on March 28, 1977, and became effective on that date.

Relators--several public employee unions and some of their officers--obtained leave to sue in quo warranto from the Attorney General. 3 A complaint was filed on September 20, 1977. It sought a writ of quo warranto declaring the charter amendments invalid by reason of noncompliance with the "meet-and-confer" requirement of Government Code section 3505. 4 It prayed that the trial court (1) issue a writ of quo warranto ordering that the amendments be stricken; (2) make an order declaring the charter additions and amendments null and void; and (3) declare that certain sections of the Charter of the City of Seal Beach remain in force as they existed before the amendments. The actions were held in abeyance by stipulation of the parties pending a final decision by this court in San Francisco Fire Fighters v. Board of Supervisors (1979) 96 Cal.App.3d 538, 158 Cal.Rptr. 145. We eventually denied a hearing in that case. 5 The city then filed a general demurrer to the complaint, arguing that the city council had the absolute, unabridged constitutional authority to propose charter amendments to its electorate, which authority could not be impaired or limited by the requirements of the MMBA (Cal. Const., art. XI, § 3, subd. (b)). 6 The city's demurrer was based on the holding in San Francisco Fire Fighters, that San Francisco's Board of Supervisors did not have to meet and confer with employee representatives before proposing a charter amendment which, as here, concerned the terms and conditions of public employment.

The city's demurrer to the complaint was sustained and relators were given 30 days to amend. After they failed to do so, the matter was dismissed. Relators appeal.

II

Section 3505 of the MMBA requires governing bodies of local agencies 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 presentations made by the employee organizations. Section 3505.1 provides that if the representatives successfully reach an agreement, a nonbinding memorandum of understanding shall be jointly prepared. 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.) "Though the process is not binding, it requires that the parties seriously 'attempt to resolve differences and reach a common ground.' " (Los Angeles County Civil Service Com. v. Superior Court (1978) 23 Cal.3d 55, 61-62, 151 Cal.Rptr. 547, 588 P.2d 249, citing Placentia Fire Fighters v. City of Placentia (1976) 57 Cal.App.3d 9, 25, 129 Cal.Rptr. 126.)

The MMBA has two stated purposes: (1) to promote full communication between public employers and employees; and (2) to improve personnel management and employer-employee relations within the various public agencies. These purposes are to be accomplished by establishing methods for resolving disputes over employment conditions and by recognizing the right of public employees to organize and be represented by employee organizations. (§ 3500.) While the Legislature established a procedure for resolving disputes regarding wages, hours and other conditions of employment, it did not attempt to establish standards for the wages, hours and other terms and conditions themselves. Rather, it "set forth reasonable, proper and necessary principles which public agencies must follow in their rules and regulations for administering their employer-employee relations, ..." (Los Angeles County Firefighters Local 1014 v. City of Monrovia (1972) 24 Cal.App.3d 289, 295, 101 Cal.Rptr. 78.) Ambiguous language in section 3500 which seemingly leaves room for local legislation inconsistent with MMBA, has not been so interpreted. "Although the Legislature did not intend to preempt all aspects of labor relations in the public sector, we cannot attribute to it an intention to permit local entities to adopt regulations which would frustrate the declared policies and purposes of the MMB Act." (Huntington Beach Police Officers' Assn. v. City of Huntington Beach (1976) 58 Cal.App.3d 492, 501-502, 129 Cal.Rptr. 893.) Finally, the Legislature clearly intended that the MMBA apply to charter cities: a public agency under section 3501, subdivision (c) includes "every town, city, county, city and county and municipal corporation, whether incorporated or not and whether chartered or not."

The simple question posed by this case is whether the unchallenged constitutional power of a charter city's governing body to propose charter amendments may be used to circumvent the legislatively designed methods of accomplishing the goals of MMBA.

III

Seal Beach argues that the meet-and-confer requirement of the MMBA is incompatible with the charter amendment provisions contained in article XI, section 3 of the California Constitution. (See fn. 6, ante.) It contends that the central issue in this case is whether the Legislature may, by statute, restrict or qualify a right or power expressly reserved to a charter city by the Constitution. It points out--correctly--that this issue was squarely decided in its favor in San Francisco Fire Fighters v. Board of Supervisors, supra, 96 Cal.App.3d 538, 158 Cal.Rptr. 145.

Article XI, section 3, subdivision (b), of the California Constitution does, of course, give the governing body of a charter city the right to propose charter amendments to the electorate; San Francisco Fire Fighters held that this right could not be abridged by the Legislature and that therefore the MMBA meet-and-confer requirement could not be enforced. The court stated that "[w]e discern ... a clear purpose that when a county's, or city's, governing body shall find it to be in the public interest to propose a specific charter amendment for adoption by the electorate, it shall have the absolute and untrammeled right and duty to do so. Just as clearly appears a corollary intent that such charter amendment proposals, or the decision whether they be made at all, shall not be the product of bargaining and compromise between the public entity's representatives, and others." (San Francisco Fire Fighters, supra, at p. 548, 158 Cal.Rptr. 145.)

It is a truism that few legal rights are so "absolute and untrammeled" that they can never be subjected to peaceful coexistence with other rules. Thus in Los Angeles County Civil Service Com. v. Superior Court, supra, 23 Cal.3d at pages 65-66, 151 Cal.Rptr. 547, 588 P.2d 249, we reconciled a charter provision which mandated that civil service rules be amended only after public hearings, with the meet-and-confer provisions of the MMBA, although under article XI, section 3, subdivision (a) the charter provision superseded all "inconsistent" laws. "We conclude that the meet-and-confer requirement can coexist with the charter-mandated hearing. We see no reason why the commission's integrity as a neutral administrator of the merit system would be jeopardized by its participating in bargaining sessions with union and management representatives." (Id. at pp. 65-66, 151 Cal.Rptr. 547, 588 P.2d 249.)

The city, however, claims that the MMBA cannot be harmonized with its constitutional right to propose charter amendments. First, it asserts that any regulation which affects this right is invalid. Under this argument, the city's power to amend its charter is so absolute that it is irrelevant that a legislative enactment which purports to affect it, does not...

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