Social Workers' Union, Local 5 v. Alameda County Welfare Dept., AFL-CIO

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtTOBRINER; WRIGHT; McCOMB
Citation113 Cal.Rptr. 461,11 Cal.3d 382,521 P.2d 453
Parties, 521 P.2d 453, 86 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2954, 74 Lab.Cas. P 53,347 SOCIAL WORKERS' UNION, LOCAL 535, SEIU,, et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. ALAMEDA COUNTY WELFARE DEPARTMENT et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Docket NumberS.F. 23015,AFL-CIO
Decision Date30 April 1974

Page 461

113 Cal.Rptr. 461
11 Cal.3d 382, 521 P.2d 453, 86 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2954,
74 Lab.Cas. P 53,347
SOCIAL WORKERS' UNION, LOCAL 535, SEIU, AFL-CIO, et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
ALAMEDA COUNTY WELFARE DEPARTMENT et al., Defendants and Respondents.
S.F. 23015.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
April 30, 1974.

[11 Cal.3d 383]

Page 462

[521 P.2d 454] Levy & Van Bourg, Victor J. Van Bourg and Stewart Weinberg, San Francisco, for plaintiffs and appellants.

Richard J. Moore, County Counsel, and Douglas H. Hickling, Deputy County Counsel, Oakland, for defendants and respondents.

[11 Cal.3d 384] TOBRINER, Justice.

In this case we must determine whether a public employee may be disciplined for declining to attend, without his union representative, a meeting with his supervisor concerning the employee's alleged misuse of a county car at a union rally. The Alameda County Welfare Department (Department) ordered three-day suspensions for seven employees after the employees declined to attend such a meeting from which their union representative had been excluded. The employees, and their union, Social Workers Union, Local 535, SEIU, AFL-CIO (union), then sought a writ of mandate to compel the Department to set aside the suspensions, but the superior court denied the writ, concluding that the relevant statutory provisions granted the individual employees appeal from that adverse their employer. The union and the employees no right to the presence of a union representative at such a meeting with judgment.

For the reasons discussed below, we have concluded that a public employee's statutory right to effective union representation (Gov.Code, § 3500 et seq.) includes a right to have a union representative accompany him to a meeting with his employer when the employee reasonably anticipates that such meeting may involve union activities and when the employee reasonably fears that adverse action may result from such a meeting because of union-related conduct. In the instant case we find that the public employees could reasonably anticipate that the meetings, set up by their employer to investigate their transportation to a union rally protesting the employer's conduct, might result in disciplinary action related to their union activity; thus, we believe such employees were justified in insisting that their union representative be permitted to attend the meeting and were not subject to sanction for such insistence. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment as to those employees who properly exhausted their administrative remedies.

The essential facts underlying this litigation are not at issue. On May 14, 1969, the union sponsored a noon hour rally at the Alameda County Administration Building to protest, as described by the union, the failure of the County of Alameda to 'meet and confer in good faith' with the union concerning subjects within the scope of representation allowable under the stat

Page 463

ute. [521 P.2d 455] (Gov.Code, § 3505.) An investigation undertaken by county administrators indicated that certain county vehicles were observed at the union rally; further examination of county garage records and 'employee day sheets' suggested that some of the employees using these vehicles did not have official business at the administration building during the time in [11 Cal.3d 385] question. The responsible county supervisor testified at the administrative proceeding that, based on these revelations, 'circumstantially it appeared' that a misuse of county property had occurred. In July 1969, some 30 employees were ordered to attend individual meetings with the chief assistant welfare director or his deputy concerning the employees' possible misuse of county vehicles to attend the May 14, 1969, union rally.

A dispute soon arose over the right of the employees to be accompanied to these meetings by their union representative. After the chief assistant welfare director made clear that the union representative would not be permitted to attend, 23 employees acquiesced in the supervisor's demand that they appear alone before him or his assistant. Based solely on these meetings, the assistant supervisor transmitted a report on the matter to the welfare director including recommendations as to discipline. 1

The seven employees involved in the instant case, however, declined to meet with the chief assistant welfare director or his deputy to discuss the alleged misuse of county vehicles in connection with a union rally without a union representative. 2 All seven individuals were ultimately suspended [11 Cal.3d 386] for three days for insubordination in refusing to attend the interview without a union representative. Thereafter, the employees and their union commenced the instant proceeding, challenging the validity of the suspensions.

After reviewing the facts outlined above, the superior court concluded that 'no law, ordinance, rule or regulation authorizes or requires the presence of union representatives at such interview.' 'Such interview,' in the language of the findings of the court, consisted of a confrontation by the county with workers upon the issue 'whether or not the vehicles were in the area because the employees had departmental business in the vicinity, or, in the alternative, whether the vehicles were used for the transportation of the employees to and from the demonstration.' On the basis of

Page 464

[521 P.2d 456] its conclusion, the court denied the requested writ of mandate. 3

We shall explain why we have concluded that, contrary to the conclusion of the trial court, the subject matter of the employer's investigation in the instant case fell within the penumbra of the protected rights of the employees and justified the employees' claim to a right of union representation. Since the investigation touched upon the statutorily guaranteed associational rights of the employees, and since the employees could reasonably fear that the investigation might lead to disciplinary penalties for such union participation, 4 we hold that the employee could properly demand the presence of a union representative at such an interview.

The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, the controlling statutory structure in this [11 Cal.3d 387] field, is built upon the recognition of the rights of association and representation of the public employee. 5 Government Code section 3500 guarantees public employees 'the right . . . to join organizations of their own choice and be represented by such organizations in their employment relationships with public agencies.' After many years of indecision as to the organizational rights of public employees, the Legislature finally accorded them this basic right of association which, obviously, embraces that most vital aspect of unionism: the right of attendance at a union meeting or rally. Thus, section 3502 provides that 'public employees shall have the right to form, join, and participate in the activities of employee organizations of their own choosing for the purpose of representation on all matters of employer-employee relations.' (Emphasis added.)

Two sections of the code specifically protect public employees against interference or intimidation by public agencies in the exercise of the employees' right of association. Thus section 3506 provides: 'Public agencies . . . shall not interfere with, intimidate, restrain, coerce, or discriminate against public employees because of their exercise of their rights under Section 3502.' Section 3508 reiterates this principle: 'The right of employees to form, join and participate in the activities of employee organizations shall not be restricted by a public agency on any grounds other than those set forth in this section.' 6

Page 465

[521 P.2d 457] And, in recent years, numerous cases have enforced these prohibitions against a variety of employer conduct which impinged upon or threatened employees because of their union affiliations or activities. (See, e.g., Ball v. City Council (1967) 252 Cal.App.2d 136, 139--140, 60 Cal.Rptr. 139; cf. International Ass'n of Fire Fighters v. City of Palo Alto (1963) 60 Cal.2d 295, 300, 32 Cal.Rptr. [11 Cal.3d 388] 842, 384 P.2d 170; International Ass'n of Fire Fighters v. County of Merced (1962) 204 Cal.App.2d 387, 391--392, 22 Cal.Rptr. 270.)

In addition to ensuring a public employee's right to engage in a wide range of union-related activities without fear of sanction, the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act defines the scope of the employee's right to union representation in language that is broad and generous.

Section 3503 establishes the right of recognized employee unions...

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26 practice notes
  • Building Material & Construction Teamsters' Union v. Farrell, S.F. 24915
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 3 Abril 1986
    ...the language of which parallels that of federal statutes. (Ibid; Social Workers' Union, Local 535 v. Alameda County Welfare Dept. (1974) 11 Cal.3d 382, 391, 113 Cal.Rptr. 461, 521 P.2d 453.) Here, the phrase "wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment" was taken directly fro......
  • Santa Clara County Counsel Attys. Assn. v. Woodside, No. S031593
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 31 Marzo 1994
    ...range of union-related activities without fear of sanction...." (Social Workers' Union, Local 535 v. Alameda County Welfare Dept. (1974) 11 Cal.3d 382, 388, 113 Cal.Rptr. 461, 521 P.2d 453.) Public employers may not discriminate against their employees on the basis of membership or particip......
  • Glendale City Employees' Assn., Inc. v. City of Glendale
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 3 Octubre 1975
    ...(1974) 12 Cal.3d 608, 617, 116 Cal.Rptr. 507, 526 P.2d 971; Social Workers' Union, Local 535 v. Alameda County Welfare Dept. (1974) 11 Cal.3d 382, 341, 113 Cal.Rptr. 461, 521 P.2d 453; San Joaquin County Employees' Assn., Inc. v. County of San Joaquin, supra, 39 Cal.App.3d 83, 86, 113 Cal.R......
  • Civil Service Assn. v. City and County of San Francisco
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 26 Octubre 1978
    ...suspensions. The second issue involves the application of Social Workers Union, Local 535 v. Alameda County Welfare Dept. (1974) 11 Cal.3d 382, 113 Cal.Rptr. 461, 521 P.2d 453, upon which appellants I. Application of Skelly v. State Personnel Bd. Appellants base their claim to prediscipline......
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26 cases
  • Building Material & Construction Teamsters' Union v. Farrell, S.F. 24915
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 3 Abril 1986
    ...the language of which parallels that of federal statutes. (Ibid; Social Workers' Union, Local 535 v. Alameda County Welfare Dept. (1974) 11 Cal.3d 382, 391, 113 Cal.Rptr. 461, 521 P.2d 453.) Here, the phrase "wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment" was taken di......
  • Santa Clara County Counsel Attys. Assn. v. Woodside, No. S031593
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 31 Marzo 1994
    ...of union-related activities without fear of sanction...." (Social Workers' Union, Local 535 v. Alameda County Welfare Dept. (1974) 11 Cal.3d 382, 388, 113 Cal.Rptr. 461, 521 P.2d 453.) Public employers may not discriminate against their employees on the basis of membership or participa......
  • Glendale City Employees' Assn., Inc. v. City of Glendale
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 3 Octubre 1975
    ...(1974) 12 Cal.3d 608, 617, 116 Cal.Rptr. 507, 526 P.2d 971; Social Workers' Union, Local 535 v. Alameda County Welfare Dept. (1974) 11 Cal.3d 382, 341, 113 Cal.Rptr. 461, 521 P.2d 453; San Joaquin County Employees' Assn., Inc. v. County of San Joaquin, supra, 39 Cal.App.3d 83, 86, 113 Cal.R......
  • Civil Service Assn. v. City and County of San Francisco
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 26 Octubre 1978
    ...suspensions. The second issue involves the application of Social Workers Union, Local 535 v. Alameda County Welfare Dept. (1974) 11 Cal.3d 382, 113 Cal.Rptr. 461, 521 P.2d 453, upon which appellants I. Application of Skelly v. State Personnel Bd. Appellants base their claim to prediscipline......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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