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

Supreme Court of California

May 30, 2013

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, Plaintiff and Appellant,

Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS116993, Ct.App. 2/3 B217668, James C. Chalfant, Judge.

Gutierrez, Preciado & House, Calvin House, Clifton A. Baker; Manuel A. Valenzuela, Jr., Lucia Gonzalez Peck, Joyce M. Aiello and Rosemarie Belda, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

No appearance for Defendant and Respondent.

Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, David A. Rosenfeld, Alan G. Crowley, Vincent A. Harrington, Jacob J. White and Ann-Marie Gallegos for Real Party in Interest and Respondent.

Davis, Cowell & Bowe, Richard G. McCracken and Andrew J. Kahn for Union of American Physicians & Dentists, Unite Here International Union and AFT Local 1931 as Amici Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest and Respondent.

Leonard Carder, Margot Rosenberg and Arthur L. Liou for International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Local 21, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest and Respondent.

Altshuler Berzon, Scott A. Kronland and Eileen B. Goldsmith for SEIU United Long Term Care Workers, SEIU Local 521, SEIU United Healthcare Workers West and California United Homecare Workers as Amici Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest and Respondent.

Rothner, Segall & Greenstone, Glenn Rothner, Jonathan Cohen and Anthony Resnick for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, California Faculty Association, California School Employees Association and California Teachers Association as Amici Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest and Respondent.

Joan A. Markoff, Will M. Yamada, Paul M. Starkey and Jennifer M. Garten for the California Department of Personnel Administration as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest and Respondent.

M. Suzanne Murphy and Wendi L. Ross for California Public Employment Relations Board as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest and Respondent.


This case involves the balance between an employee’s right of informational privacy[1] and a union’s right to obtain information it needs to represent the employee in collective bargaining. The Service Employees International Union, Local 721 (SEIU) is the exclusive bargaining representative of all Los Angeles County (County) employees. The question here is whether SEIU is entitled to obtain the home addresses and phone numbers of all represented employees, including those who have not joined the union. We agree with both courts below that it is so entitled but reverse the Court of Appeal’s imposition of procedural requirements limiting disclosure.

State and federal labor decisions have long held that unions are presumptively entitled to contact information for all employees they represent. These decisions, and applicable labor laws, generally obligate the County to give SEIU the requested information. Whether the right to privacy under article I, section 1 of the California Constitution prohibits disclosure is a question of first impression. We conclude that, although the County’s employees have a cognizable privacy interest in their home addresses and telephone numbers, the balance of interests strongly favors disclosure of this information to the union that represents them. Procedures may be developed for employees who object to this disclosure. However, the Court of Appeal exceeded its authority in this administrative mandate proceeding by attempting to impose specific procedures on the parties.


SEIU is the certified majority representative for County employees in several bargaining units. County employees have a collective right to unionize but an individual right to refuse to join or participate in a union. (Gov. Code, § 3502;[2] L.A. County Code, § 5.04.070.) To accommodate these rights, a public agency may enter into an “agency shop agreement” with the organization recognized as the employees’ exclusive or majority bargaining agent. (§ 3502.5, subd. (a).) An “agency shop” is “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....” (Ibid.)

Each of the County’s bargaining units has a memorandum of understanding (MOU), with SEIU. Most of these MOUs have an agency shop provision that gives County employees four options: (1) join SEIU and pay dues; (2) decline to join and pay a fair share fee; (3) decline to join, object to the fair share fee, and instead pay an agency shop fee; or (4) decline to join, claim a religious exemption, and pay the agency shop fee to a nonreligious, nonlabor charitable fund. A recognized bargaining agent acts on behalf of all employees in a bargaining unit, whether the employees are union members or not.

Teachers v. Hudson (1986) 475 U.S. 292 (Hudson) requires that SEIU send County employees an annual notice to collect fees from nonmembers. The Hudson notice sets out membership options, applicable fees, and the reasons for these fees.[3] SEIU’s notice packet also includes forms allowing the employee to join or decline to join the union. Those who decline are asked to provide their name, home address, and home telephone number. Employees who do not return any form are, by default, considered “fair share fee payers.” As of 2007, nearly 12, 000 of the County’s approximately 14, 500 nonmember employees were fair share fee payers. SEIU has home addresses for about half of these nonmembers.[4]

Historically, the County provided lists of nonmembers’ names, worksites, office addresses, and supervisors, but has never given SEIU home addresses or telephone numbers. Consequently, SEIU has not sent Hudson notices directly to County employees. Instead, since at least 1994, SEIU has delivered Hudson notice packets to the Los Angeles County Employee Relations Commission (ERCOM), an independent body that manages relations between the County and its employees under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA). (§§ 3507, 3509.)[5] ERCOM would then mail the Hudson notices, using address labels provided by the County.

During negotiations in 2006, SEIU proposed amending the MOU as follows: “To facilitate the carrying out of this responsibility [to provide Hudson notices], each year the County shall furnish the Union with the names and home addresses of employees in [the] bargaining units covered by agency shop provisions.” SEIU also sought contact information for other reasons. As the exclusive bargaining representative, SEIU wanted to communicate with all County employees, members or otherwise, about union activities and events.[6] It also wanted the information for recruitment[7] and investigation of grievances.

The County rejected the amendment, contending contact information was not relevant to any collective bargaining issue and disclosure would violate nonmembers’ privacy rights. The County proposed either to continue the current arrangement or to negotiate a procedure for employees to release their own data. SEIU opposed these alternatives, withdrew its proposal to modify the Hudson notice provision, and filed a charge with ERCOM alleging an unfair employee relations practice.

After a three-day hearing, an administrative hearing officer concluded the County’s refusal to provide the contact information was an unfair labor practice. Relying on decisions by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the hearing officer held the contact information was presumptively relevant (see post, at p. 9) to SEIU’s representation. While acknowledging that privacy interests were at stake, the hearing officer found the County had not met its burden to show that the nonmembers’ privacy interest outweighed SEIU’s need for the information. ERCOM adopted the hearing officer’s findings and ordered disclosure.

The County sought a writ of administrative mandate, urging that nonmembers had a constitutional privacy right that justified nondisclosure.[8] (Code Civ. Proc., § 1094.5.) Although the superior court concluded nonmember County employees had a legally protected privacy right and disclosure of their contact information constituted a “non-trivial” invasion of that right, it also held that SEIU needed the information to fulfill its duty to represent all County employees in collective bargaining. The court then balanced those competing interests. It observed that labor law precedents, while not dispositive, establish a strong public policy in favor of union access to the information. On balance, the public policy favoring collective bargaining outweighed any privacy interest nonmember County employees might have in nondisclosure. Because disclosure did not violate California law, the court denied the County’s petition for relief from ERCOM’s order.

The County sought review, and the appellate court reframed the issue. It agreed with the trial court that nonmember employees had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their home addresses and phone numbers. However, the court did not balance this expectation of privacy against SEIU’s need for the information. Instead, it characterized the question as whether a nonunion employee “has a reasonable expectation under California privacy laws that he or she will be provided notice and an opportunity to object before” contact information is disclosed to the union.

The court acknowledged the question it framed was one of first impression. It sought guidance by analogizing SEIU’s request to a class action discovery request for consumers’ personal information. Importing a procedure from class action litigation, the court held nonmember employees were entitled to notice and an opportunity to opt out before their home addresses and telephone numbers could be disclosed to SEIU. (See, e.g., Pioneer Electronics, supra, 40 Cal.4th at pp. 372-373.) In this analysis, the appellate court assumed the privacy rights of objecting employees would always outweigh SEIU’s need for the information and that SEIU only had a right to contact information for those nonmember employees who failed to object. We granted SEIU’s petition for review.


A. Employer’s Duty to Provide Information Relevant to Collective Bargaining

As a threshold matter, apart from privacy concerns, the County contends no applicable law requires that it give SEIU the requested information. We hold to the contrary. Under the MMBA and applicable labor law precedents, the failure to provide relevant information violated the County’s obligation to bargain in good faith. Before turning to the good faith question, we explore the interrelation between federal and state labor laws.

1. Overview of Applicable Labor Laws

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) governs collective bargaining in private sector employment. (1 Castagnera et al., Termination of Employment (2002) § 1:131; see Department of Defense v. FLRA (1994) 510 U.S. 487, 503 (Dept. of Defense); Teledyne Economic Development v. N.L.R.B. (4th Cir. 1997) 108 F.3d 56, 59.) However, the NLRA leaves states free to regulate labor relationships with their ...

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