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County of Los Angeles v. Los Angeles County Employee Relations Commission

February 24, 2011


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, James C. Chalfant, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS116993)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aldrich, J.

Opinion following rehearing


Reversed and remanded with directions.


This case implicates the privacy rights of Los Angeles County employees who are not Union members and their ability to control the dissemination of their personal information to the Service Employees International Union, Local 721 (the Union), which has a statutory duty to represent even these non-member County employees. The County of Los Angeles, Chief Executive Office, appeals from the denial of its petition for writ of administrative mandamus (Code Civ. Proc., § 1094.5), in which it asserted the privacy rights of these non-member County employees and challenged the decision by the Los Angeles County Employee Relations Commission (Commission) that ordered the County to release their names, home addresses, and home telephone numbers to the Union.

The trial court concluded the Commission erred by applying the traditional labor law presumption in favor of disclosure. Nevertheless, the trial court upheld the Commission's decision to disclose the non-members' personal information under California privacy law, applying the balancing test set forth in Hill v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn. (1994) 7 Cal.4th 1, 39-40 (Hill). We do not disturb the trial court's determination that the Union is entitled to the personal information. The trial court, however, ordered disclosure of the non-members' personal information without due consideration to procedural protections afforded to third parties whose privacy rights are at stake. (See Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc. v. Superior Court (2007) 40 Cal.4th 360, 371-372 (Pioneer Electronics).)

In this case of first impression, we conclude non-member County employees who have not disclosed their personal information to the Union are entitled to notice and an opportunity to object before disclosure. When third-party information has been ordered disclosed in civil litigation, our Supreme Court recognizes that privacy notices and opt-out procedures sufficiently strike a balance between the right to the information and the rights of third parties to control the dissemination of their personal information. Non-member County employees, like those unwillingly thrust into litigation, are entitled to these same procedural protections. County employees have a reasonable expectation that the personal information they provide to their employer will remain confidential and not disseminated without notice. These employees do not forfeit their privacy rights by accepting employment with a public agency whose employees have a collective right to unionize but an individual right not to join. We therefore reverse and remand to the trial court with directions to enter a new order denying the petition but directing the County to give non-member County employees notice and an opportunity to object before disclosure of their personal information to the Union.


During collective bargaining, the Union asked the County for the personal information of County employees in the bargaining unit who are not Union members. The County refused. The Union filed an unfair employee-relations practice charge with the Commission in which it contended the County violated sections 12(a)(3) and 15*fn1 of the County's Employee Relations Ordinance (Ordinance). Following a hearing before an administrative hearing officer, the Commission agreed with the Union.

A. Facts

1. Union's Limited Communication With Non-Members

The Union is the certified majority representative for several bargaining units in the County. County employees have the collective right to unionize, but the individual right to refuse to join or participate in a union. (Gov. Code, § 3502; L.A. County Code, § 5.04.070.) As an accommodation of these rights, a public agency may enter into an agency-shop agreement with a major bargaining unit. (Gov. Code, § 3502.5, subd. (a).) " '[A]gency shop' means an arrangement that requires an employee, as a condition of continued employment, either to join the recognized employee organization or to pay the organization a service fee in an amount not to exceed the standard initiation fee, periodic dues, and general assessments of the organization." (Ibid.)

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Union and the County is an agency-shop agreement. County employees who do not want to join the Union have three options: (1) decline to join and pay their fair-share fee; (2) decline to join, object to the fair-share fee and instead pay an agency-shop fee; or (3) decline to join, claim a religious exemption, and pay the agency-shop fee to a non-religious, non-labor charitable fund.

Since the agency-shop agreement permits the Union to collect fees from non-members, the Union must send an annual Hudson notice,*fn2 informing County employees of their membership options, the applicable fees, and the reasons they must pay these fees. In the past, the Union prepared the Hudson notice, the County prepared the mailing labels, and the Commission mailed the Hudson notices.

The Hudson notice packet includes a solicitation letter to join the Union and forms to decline to join. Those County employees who affirmatively decline to join the Union must complete and return one of the two forms attached to the Hudson notice ("agency shop fee designation" or "statement of religious objections"). These forms request the County employees' name, home address, and home telephone number. County employees who do not respond are by default "fair share fee payers." As of 2007, fair-share-fee payers represented approximately 11,000 of the 14,512 non-member County employees. The Union has home addresses and home telephone numbers for less than half of these non-members.

2. Collective Bargaining Negotiations Addressing Changes To The Method Of Communicating With Non-Member County Employees

During negotiations in 2006, the Union proposed a change in Article 15, Section 7 of the MOU, addressing the obligation to provide Hudson notices. The proposed change stated: "To facilitate the carrying out of this responsibility, each year the County shall furnish the Union with the names and home ...

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