SOCIAL SERVICES UNION LOCAL 535 SEIU AFL CIO v. COUNTY OF CONTRA COSTA

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Court of Appeal, First District, Division 1, California.

State Parallel Citation and Paging not Available SOCIAL SERVICES UNION, LOCAL 535, SEIU, AFL–CIO, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. COUNTY OF CONTRA COSTA and Board of Supervisors of the County of Contra Costa, Defendants and Appellants.

Civ. 39842.

Decided: August 08, 1977

John B. Clausen, County Counsel, and E. V. Lane, Jr., Deputy County Counsel, Martinez, for defendants and appellants. Van Bourg, Allen, Weinberg & Roger, San Francisco, for plaintiff and respondent.

In early 1976, due to changes in governmental regulations relating to state welfare funding, the Board of Supervisors of Contra Costa County (hereinafter Board) found it necessary to eliminate some programs of the county Human Resources Agency with the result that there was need to lay off or demote certain agency employees. The Social Services Union, Local 535, SEIU, AFL–CIO (hereinafter Union), which represents social service employees of the county, alleges that approximately 68 persons will be affected by demotions and/or layoffs.

The Chief of the Employee Relations Division for the County of Contra Costa and other county representatives met with the Union's representatives on several matters related to the layoffs on June 4, 10, and 15, 1976. At the June 4 meeting, Union representatives presented a proposal relating to seniority rights of persons laid off or demoted. County representatives, relying upon sections 32–4.670, 32–4.672 and 32–4.660 of the Contra Costa County Ordinance Code, took the position that the issue of seniority was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the civil service commission (hereinafter Commission). They therefore refused to confer on that issue, and advised the Union to propose changes in seniority rules directly to the Commission. At the June 10 meeting the seniority issue was again raised by the Union, and was again rejected by the county representatives. The Union was again informed that the appropriate remedy was to make a request to the Commission to amend its regulations.

At the June 15 meeting the Union presented its demands in writing. County representatives responded that items I, II and V, relating to seniority, were within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Commission and again refused to meet and confer on those issues. Following an exchange of correspondence between Union and county representatives in which the positions of the two parties were memorialized, the Union filed a petition for writ of mandate in the superior court resulting in the entry of a peremptory writ ordering appellant Board to meet and confer with respondent Union ‘on the issues set forth in the Union's Proposed Agreement On The Effects of Reducing Service Positions . . ..’ The county and the Board appeal on the ground that the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, Government Code sections 3500–3510 inclusive (herein sometimes MMBA), is inapplicable because, under an ordinance adopted pursuant to state law, the Commission has exclusive jurisdiction over the matter of seniority with respect to layoffs, demotions, suspensions, transfers and reinstatements. In effect the county argues that its civil service system provides a suitable method of administering employer-employee relations without regard to MMBA.

DISCUSSION

As appellants put it, ‘The key question before the Court is what was the intent of the Legislature in enacting the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act.’ The general rule for determining legislative intent was stated in Kimball v. County of Santa Clara (1972), 24 Cal.App.3d 780, 784, 101 Cal.Rptr. 353, 356. Quoting from Noroian v. Department of Administration (1970), 11 Cal.App.3d 651, 654–655, 89 Cal.Rptr. 889, the court in Kimball stated: “. . . our concern is to ascertain and to give effect to the legislative intent. [Citations.] In ascertaining the intent articulated in a statute, the court should first turn to the words of the statute to determine the will of the Legislature [citations] and give effect to the statute according to the usual, ordinary import of the language employed in framing it. [Citations.]” On the same general subject the following quotation from Gibbons & Reed Co. v. Dept. of Motor Vehicles (1963), 220 Cal.App.2d 277, 286, 33 Cal.Rptr. 688, 693 (disapproved on different grounds in Mass v. Board of Education (1964), 61 Cal.2d 612, 625, 39 Cal.Rptr. 739, 394 P.2d 579), is helpful: ‘A prime principle of statutory construction is that the purpose sought to be achieved has an important place in ascertaining the legislative intent. (Freedland v. Greco, 45 Cal.2d 462, 467, 289 P.2d 463.) If a statute is not plain, certain and unambiguous, a mere literal construction ought not to prevail as against the intention of the Legislature, apparent by the act itself. The intent prevails over the letter and the letter will, if possible, be so read as to conform to the spirit of the act. (Pritchard v. Sully-Miller Contracting Co., 178 Cal.App.2d 246, 256, 2 Cal.Rptr. 830; Select Base Materials v. Board of Equalization, 51 Cal.2d 640, 645, 335 P.2d 672.)’

With these precepts in mind we note preliminarily MMBA's stated threefold purpose: ‘[1.] to promote full communication between public employers and their employees by providing a reasonable method of resolving disputes regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment between public employers and public employee organizations'; ‘[2.] to promote the improvement of personnel management and employer-employee relations within the various public agencies in the State of California by providing a uniform basis for recognizing the right of public employees to join organizations of their own choice and be represented by such organizations in their employment relationships with public agencies'; ‘[3.] to strengthen merit, civil service and other methods of administering employer-employee relations through the establishment of uniform and orderly methods of communication between employees and the public agencies by which they are employed.’ (Gov. Code, § 3500.)

The MMBA provides, inter alia, for meetings between public employee organizations and representatives of the public employer, in order to ‘confer in good faith regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment . . ..’ (Gov. Code, § 3505.)1

The difference between the Union and the appellants in the instant case arises over the following language in Government Code section 3500: ‘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 nor is it intended that this chapter be binding upon those public agencies which provide procedures for the administration of employer-employee relations in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. This chapter is intended, instead, to strengthen merit, civil service and other methods of administering employer-employee relations through the establishment of uniform and orderly methods of communication between employees and the public agencies by which they are employed.’

In commenting on this language the Supreme Court in Glendale City Employees' Assn., Inc. v. City of Glendale (1975), 15 Cal.3d 328, 334, 124 Cal.Rptr. 513, 517, 540 P.2d 609, 613, noted in footnote 4 that ‘Section 3500 of the Meyers-Millias-Brown Act does not clearly prescribe whether a local agency may adopt methods of administering employer-employee relations which differ from those prescribed by the act.’ The court concluded that it was unnecessary to reach that question because the City of Glendale had adopted a format for labor-management relations essentially identical to that set out in MMBA, and had by ordinance designated the city manager as the person to whom written proposals on fringe benefits and other conditions of employment should be presented. The ordinance in Glendale also authorized the city manager, if he and the recognized employee representative agreed, to join in the preparation of a nonbinding written memorandum and present it to the city council. In the instant case the appellants' attorney informed the court during oral argument that to his knowledge the Board had not authorized any person, board or commission to meet and confer on matters within the jurisdiction of the Commission. Accordingly, it is necessary that we reach the question posed by the court in Glendale.

The position of appellants in the case at bench is substantially the same as that advanced by the appellant in Los Angeles County Firefighters Local 1014 v. City of Monrovia (1972), 24 Cal.App.3d 289, 101 Cal.Rptr. 78, wherein the city argued that the ‘supersede language’ of section 3500 exempted it from the application of the MMBA, since its preexisting rules and policies “provide for other methods of administering employer-employee relations.” (Id., at p. 294, 101 Cal.Rptr. at p. 81.) In rejecting that contention the court said at page 295, 101 Cal.Rptr. at page 82: ‘It appears from our examination of the entire act [MMBA] that the Legislature intended by it to set forth reasonable, proper and necessary principles which public agencies must follow in their rules and regulations for administering their employer-employee relations . . .; that the Legislature did not intend thereby to preempt the field of public employer-employee relations except where public agencies do not provide reasonable ‘methods of administering employer-employee relations through . . . uniform and orderly methods of communication between employees and the public agencies by which they are employed.’ (§ 3500); . . .' The court concluded that ‘if the rules and regulations of a public agency do not meet the standard established by the Legislature, the deficiencies of those rules and regulations as to rights, duties and obligations of the employer, the employee, and the employee organization, are supplied by the appropriate provisions of the act.’ (Id., at p. 295, 101 Cal.Rptr. at p. 82.) The court also pointed out at page 294, 101 Cal.Rptr. at page 82 that ‘[i]f the city's argument had merit, every public agency would be exempted; no agency can operate without some employer-employee rules and policies. Surely the Legislature had no intent to exempt from the law those public agencies having arbitrary and unreasonable rules and regulations. Section 3500 expresses the legislative intent very clearly: ‘This chapter is intended . . . to strengthen merit, civil service and other methods of administering employer-employee relations through the establishment of uniform and orderly methods of communication between employees and the public agencies by which they are employed.’'

The appellant Board in the instant case relies upon American Federation of State etc. Employees v. County of Los Angeles (1975), 49 Cal.App.3d 356, 122 Cal.Rptr. 591, to support its contention that section 3500 constitutes express authorization for local government to adopt plans at variance with the MMBA. American Federation involved a dispute over job classifications under a civil service system established pursuant to county charter. Both county charter provisions and implementing legislation enacted pursuant to the MMBA delegated the subject of job classification to the county civil service commission. The reviewing court, without mentioning Monrovia, held that under the express qualification in section 3500, a procedure for job classification governed by county charter and civil service regulations enacted pursuant thereto is not intended to be superseded by the MMBA.

In contrast, in Huntington Beach Police Officers' Assn. v. City of Huntington Beach (1976), 58 Cal.App.3d 492, 129 Cal.Rptr. 893, the court, relying upon the holding in Monrovia, held that an implementing “Employer-Employee Relations Resolution” which purported to exclude the subject of work schedule from the meet and confer process was in conflict with the declared purpose of the MMBA and therefore invalid. The Huntington Beach court attempted to distinguish American Federation on the ground that Huntington Beach did not involve provisions of a city charter regulating a civil service system, but the significance of this distinction is not readily apparent.

The holdings of Huntington Beach and Monrovia on the one hand and American Federation on the other appear to be in direct conflict. The former stand for the proposition that, notwithstanding the qualifying language of section 3500, the MMBA will preempt the field of public employer-employee relations where public agencies do not provide ‘reasonable methods' of administering employer-employee relations through ‘uniform and orderly methods of communication.’ (Gov. Code, § 3500; see also, Crowley v. City and County of San Francisco (1976), 64 Cal.App.3d 450, 456, 134 Cal.Rptr. 533, 536.) American Federation stands for the proposition that the qualifying language of the MMBA permits a governmental body to except from the process of negotiation subject matter which would otherwise constitute ‘terms or conditions of employment’ within the meaning of the act.2

The rationale of Huntington Beach and Monrovia impresses us as being more persuasive than that of American Federation. As the Huntington Beach court explained: ‘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. Were we to uphold the city's regulation in question, local entities would, as Professor Grodin observed, be ‘free to adopt rules prohibiting employees from joining unions, to decline recognition to any organization, and to refuse to meet or confer with recognized organizations on matters pertaining to employment relations—in short, to undercut the very purposes which the act purports to serve. Such an interpretation is inconsistent with the general objective of the statute as declared in the preamble and with the mandatory language which appears in many of the sections.’ (Grodin, Public Employee Bargaining in California: The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act in the Courts (1972) 23 Hastings L.J. 719, 724–725.)' (Huntington Beach Police Officers' Assn. v. City of Huntington Beach, supra, 58 Cal.App.3d at pp. 501–502, 129 Cal.Rptr. at pp. 899–900.) As both parties agree that seniority as related to layoff and reinstatement is a matter within the scope of representation under the MMBA the trial court in the instant case properly concluded that the ordinance sections purporting to remove that issue from any ‘meet and confer’ requirements were not in conformity with MMBA which, in Government Code section 3507, authorizes a public agency to ‘adopt reasonable rules and regulations . . . for the administration of employer-employee relations under this chapter.’

The Board's representative suggested that, as regards regulations involving seniority rules which the Union considered to be unjust and inequitable, the Union propose changes directly to the Commission. The Commission however has not been given the authority to meet and confer. It can provide a forum in which the Union can be heard and it is required to listen. This does not comply with the requirement that it meet and confer in good faith as MMBA mandates. In short, the alternative offered by the Board does not provide reasonable rules and regulations for the administration of employer-employee relations under MMBA.

Respondent Union makes two additional arguments as to why the county Ordinance Code does not exempt the Board from the meet and confer process: (1) the issue of seniority rights is not vested exclusively in the Commission; and (2) the ordinance was adopted after the MMBA and therefore constitutes a frustration of rights granted to employee organization by the act.

The latter argument is raised for the first time on appeal, and therefore cannot be considered by this court. (6 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (2d ed. 1971) Appeal, § 276, p. 4264.) Moreover, Ordinance Code division 32 was not a reenactment of former Ordinance No. 325 creating a new civil service system, but was instead merely a recodification of the ordinance which changes only the numbers of the code section.

Respondent's contention that the ordinance does not vest the issue of seniority rights exclusively in the Commission is specious. As appellants point out, this argument is based on the erroneous assumption that ‘seniority’ standing alone is of significance. Seniority becomes important only when it is used as the basis for granting or withholding some benefit, in this case job retention and reinstatement.

County Ordinance No. 325, enacted before MMBA and recodified in 1973 as division 32 of the Contra Costa Ordinance Code, created a civil service commission to administer a civil service merit system for county personnel. Section 32–4.602 provides: ‘The commission shall prescribe, amend and enforce regulations for the classified service to carry this division into effect. These regulations shall have the force of law.’ Section 32–4.604 provides: ‘The commission's regulations shall provide for the following matters set forth in this article, among others': ‘32–4.660 . . . for transfer from one position to a similar position in the same class, and for reinstatement within one year of persons who have resigned or who without fault or delinquency on their part are separated from the service or reduced’; ‘32–4.670 . . . for separations of employees from the service through layoff, suspension or dismissal, and for demotions'; ‘32–4.672. The [Commission] regulations shall provide that whenever in the judgment of the board [of supervisors] it becomes necessary in the interest of economy or because the necessity for the position involved no longer exists, the board may abolish any position or employment in the classified service and lay off the employee holding that permanent position or employment. The name of a permanent employee so laid off shall be placed at the head of the appropriate list or lists.’

Thus, under the Ordinance Code, the Board has authority to determine the necessity for layoffs, while jurisdiction over all other matters relating to layoff and reinstatement, including seniority rights, was delegated to the Commission. Section 34–8.006 provides: ‘It is the exclusive right of the county to administer the merit system as provided in Chapters 32–2–32–6.’

We are satisfied that by ‘the provisions of existing . . . ordinances, and rules' (Gov. Code, § 3500), Contra Costa County has established a merit or civil service system, but to paraphrase Monrovia (24 Cal.App.3d at p. 295, 101 Cal.Rptr. 78) the rules and regulations do not meet the standard established by the Legislature, and the deficiencies of those rules and regulations are supplied by the appropriate provisions of MMBA.

Appellant Board contends that the peremptory writ ordering the Board to meet and confer on, inter alia, matters involving seniority, is invalid as it requires an idle act. (Civ. Code, § 3532.) It is urged that the county ordinance delegates to the Commission exclusive jurisdiction over seniority rights of persons subject to layoff and demotion, and that such delegation cannot be rescinded without approval by a majority vote of the voters of the county. The thrust of the Board's argument is that an attempt by the supervisors to regulate seniority of employees would directly infringe upon the jurisdiction of the Commission and would thus amount to a partial repeal of the civil servce ordinance in violation of Ordinance Code section 32–2.204. This contention is without merit.

County Ordinance Code section 32–2.204 (formerly Ordinance No. 325, § 16) provides as follows: ‘This division may be amended by a four-fifth's vote of the board of supervisors without submission to a vote of the people; but no amendment repealing this chapter shall be effective unless the proposition of its repeal first has been submitted to a vote of the qualified electors of the county at a general or special election and has received the affirmative vote of a majority of the electors voting on the proposition.’ (Emphasis added.) Division 32 consists of three chapters: 32–2 establishing the civil service system; 32–4, creating the Commission; and 32–6, providing for examinations. The limitation on the amending power of the Board expressed in section 32–2.204 is applicable only to chapter 32–2. The Board's authority to amend by a four-fifths' majority vote is unlimited as to chapters 32–4 and 32–6. As the delegation to the Commission of jurisdiction over matters relating to seniority as applied to job retention or reinstatement is included in chapter 32–4, it may be unilaterally rescinded by the Board. Thus the Union, if it could persuade four out of five Board members, might achieve its proposed changes in seniority rights. In view of the Board's power to amend chapter 32–4, it is not true that the trial court's order to meet and confer on seniority rights of employees subject to layoff or demotion requires an idle act.

Despite our conclusion that it was not the Legislature's intent to permit local entities to adopt regulations which would frustrate the declared purpose of MMBA it does not follow that the peremptory writ ordering the appellant Board to meet and confer with respondent Union is entirely correct. MMBA clearly states that one of its purposes is to strengthen merit, civil service and other methods of administering employer-employee relations, but there is no requirement that the governing body of a public agency meet and confer with representatives of recognized employee organizations. Government Code section 3505 specifically mentions, in addition to the governing body, ‘such boards, commissions, administrative officers or other representatives as may be properly designated by law or by such governing body’ as those authorized to meet and confer in good faith. Accordingly, the matter is remanded to the trial court with directions to modify the peremptory writ to command the Board of Supervisors of the County of Contra Costa, or such other boards, commissions, administrative officers or representatives as it may designate, to meet and confer in good faith with Social Services Union, Local 535, SEIU, AFL–CIO without delay on the issues set forth in the Union's Proposed Agreement on the Effects of Reducing Service Positions dated June 15, 1976. As so modified the judgment appealed from is affirmed.

FOOTNOTES

FOOTNOTE.  

1.  Government Code section 3505 reads as follows: ‘The governing body of a public agency, or such boards, commissions, administrative officers or other representatives as may be properly designated by law or by such governing body, shall meet and confer in good faith regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment with representatives of such recognized employee organizations, as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 3501, and shall consider fully such presentations as are made by the employee organization on behalf of its members prior to arriving at a determination of policy or course of action.“Meet and confer in good faith' 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. The process should include adequate time for the resolution of impasses where specific procedures for such resolution are contained in local rule, regulation or ordinance, or when such procedures are utilized by mutual consent.'

2.  As Monrovia involved a preexisting city ordinance, the cases cannot be distinguished solely on the ground that American Federation involved a preexisting city charter. Section 3500 purports to give equal weight to ‘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 . . ..’Nor can the cases be distinguished on the basis of the importance of the rights involved. Huntington Beach involved the right of employees to negotiate on the subject of working hours, while American Federation focused on the subject of job classification.

WEINBERGER,* Associate Justice (Assigned). FN* Retired judge of the superior court sitting under assignment by the Chairman of the Judicial Council.

SIMS, Acting P. J., and ELKINGTON, J., concur.