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Executive Summary: Bills to Watch

Various labor-related bills are currently making their way through the California Legislature.  This executive summary provides a brief description of these bills and how each could potentially effect cities, counties and special districts around California.

Assembly Bill 646     

            Under the authority granted to local governments by the MMBA, many cities, counties and special districts have developed procedures to resolve impasses in labor negotiations, including mediation or fact-finding, whether mandatory or by agreement.  The MMBA provides that a local government may unilaterally implement its last, best and final offer following exhaustion of applicable impasse procedures. 

            AB 646 would add a required step before allowing the imposition of a last, best and final offer.  The bill would allow an employee organization to request a matter be submitted to a special “factfinding panel” in order to resolve an impasse.  The factfinding panel would consist of one member selected by each party and a chairperson selected by either the board or by agreement of the parties. 

            Factfinding panels would have the power to conduct investigations and hold hearings.  Panels also would have authority to issue subpoenas requiring the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of evidence; and all political subdivisions within the state would be required to comply with panels’ requests for information. Panels’ findings and recommendations would be advisory only.  The findings and recommendations would be provided only to the parties initially, and then to the public within 10 days.

            Under AB 646, if an employee organization were to request submission to a factfinding panel, a local government would not be permitted to implement its last, best and final offer until at least ten days after the factfinding panel has submitted its findings and recommendations to the parties and the local agency has held a public hearing regarding the impasse.

            AB 646 passed the Assembly on June 1, 2011, and is now with the Senate Rules Committee. 

Assembly Bill 455

            AB 455 would modify selection processes for personnel or merit commissions that administer personnel rules or a merit system.  The bill would require half of the members of a personnel or merit commission to be appointed by the governing body of the local agency.  The remaining half of the commission would be selected from a list provided to the governing body by the employee organization representing the largest number of employees working for the public agency.

            AB 455 passed the Assembly in April, 2011, and is currently pending on the Senate floor.  Sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AB 455 has the support of various labor organizations throughout the state, as it would give labor organizations a substantial role in selecting the members of the personnel or merit commissions established by public agencies.

Assembly Bill 506

            AB 506 would prohibit local governments from filing for Chapter 9 federal bankruptcy protection unless the entity has first participated in good faith in a neutral evaluation process with the interested parties in front of a mediator.  Thereafter, the entity may only declare Chapter 9 federal bankruptcy if the evaluation results in an agreement for debt readjustment; or under certain circumstances if the mediator certifies in writing that continued neutral evaluation will not contribute to a resolution of the parties dispute.

            Under existing law, any taxing agency or instrumentality of the state may file a petition for Chapter 9 federal bankruptcy.  The net effect of AB 506 would be to make this process more difficult for local governments.  For cities, counties or special districts seeking to address unfunded liabilities created by pensions and other entitlement programs, AB 506 could significantly alter the options available.

            AB 506 passed the Assembly on June 2, 2011, and has now moved to the Senate Rules Committee. 

Senate Bill 931

            SB 931 would prohibit public agencies from using public funds to pay outside consultants or legal advisors for the purpose of counseling the public employer about ways to minimize or deter the exercise of rights guaranteed to unions under the MMBA, the Dills Act, the EERA and the HEERA.  The bill would not apply to using public funds to pay for representation of a public employer before any court, administrative agency, arbitrator or other tribunal.  The bill also would not apply to payments made for purposes of representing public employers in collective bargaining with respect to wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment.

            SB 931 passed the Senate in May 2011, and now awaits a vote in the Assembly.

Assembly Bill 438

            California law provides that county boards of supervisors may establish and maintain county free libraries.  The law also provides the choice, on an annual basis, for a local legislative body or the board of trustees to opt out of the county free library system.  Local governments sometimes choose to opt out in order to achieve cost savings by contracting with a private contractor to run local libraries.  AB 438 would impose various requirements on any local legislative body or board of trustees wishing to opt out of a county free library system. 

            The bill would expressly prohibit any private library contract from displacing any city or library district employees.  The bill also would require, among other things, that the local governing body publish notice that it was contemplating opting out of the county free library system, and demonstrate the private contract will result in actual savings for the city or library district.

            AB 438 passed the Assembly on June 3, 2011, and is now in front of the Senate Rules Committee.