Supervisors Draw Fire With Closed-Door Decision on Labor Negotiations Law

Orange County supervisors on Tuesday abruptly reversed course on plans to suspend a labor negotiations ordinance that was largely invalidated by a judge, and in doing so drew fire from the leader of the county’s main public employees union.

Supervisors were originally scheduled to vote earlier this month on suspending their Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance, or COIN, after County Counsel Leon Page warned that the county could face further legal liability by keeping it in place.

Page’s warning was in response to a July ruling by a judge with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board that key parts of COIN had to be repealed because supervisors illegally imposed the requirements without giving workers a chance to negotiate first.  The county has appealed the ruling.

Among other things, COIN requires public disclosure of offers and counter-offers on labor contracts, a more detailed financial analysis of proposed agreements and the posting of proposed agreements 30 days in advance of voting on their approval.

Supporters say it gives residents a better chance to weigh in on proposed labor agreements and helps prevent labor costs from escalating due to benefit increases.

Labor groups, meanwhile, argue that it unfairly singles out employees but not private contractors who finance the supervisors’ political campaigns and account for more than half of the county’s spending.  And they say COIN’s passage last year violated requirements to meet and confer with employees under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act.

Leading up to Tuesday’s meeting it was unclear whether supervisors would take the advice of their top attorney and vote to suspend the ordinance.  The vote earlier this month was delayed until Tuesday.  But then they emerged from closed session Tuesday to delete the item, without rescheduling it or offering an explanation.

Supervisors often postpone decisions when they need more time to form a majority to get it approved, and typically explain their reasoning.  But by deleting the COIN item entirely, they signaled that the proposed suspension is dead.

The move infuriated Jennifer Muir, the general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, who said supervisors had promised to suspend COIN so negotiations can begin for thousands of county workers whose labor contract expired in June.

“The Board of Supervisors has not only ignored a judge’s ruling, not only ignored their own County Counsel’s advice, not only ignored and gone back on their word during bargaining that they were going to suspend COIN, but they today trampled over the rights of every single county employee in this county to stand together and bargain with the county,” Muir said after the meeting.

“And here are people who talk a lot about justice and honesty and transparency just walking over the rights of the county’s employees.  It’s absolutely disgusting.”

None of the five supervisors returned messages from Voice of OC seeking a response to Muir’s comments and an explanation of Tuesday’s decision.

And beyond drawing the ire of the union, supervisors might have violated the law by making decisions on the COIN ordinance behind closed doors.

Both times the item came up for a vote – Aug. 4 and Tuesday – supervisors emerged from closed session to either delay or delete the item with little or no explanation.

At the earlier meeting, supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer said he and his colleagues would be discussing an item in closed session “that may or may not influence” their decision on suspending COIN.  After the closed session, he called for a delay to the COIN suspension and simply said that supervisors “need further analysis.”  There was no other public discussion of the item.

Open government expert Terry Francke of Californians Aware said the state’s open meetings law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, requires that such a policy debate should play out in public.

“I think it’s very dubious,” Francke said of the supervisors’ actions.  “The closed sessions for negotiations are intended to allow the supervisors to react to changes or developments in collective bargaining with their employee unions.  And I’m not sure how an agenda item like that comes into play.”

“If it could be shown that in effect the supervisors reached an agreement to not do something, then that could be interpreted as action taken and they could be required to put that back on the agenda and reconsider it in open session,” he added.

Meanwhile, the supervisors’ attorney was emphatic in his recommendation to suspend COIN, saying it needed to be done promptly to avoid further legal exposure for taxpayers.

“Suspension of the Ordinance’s provisions is a matter of urgency,” Page wrote in his staff report for the Aug. 4 meeting.

“In order to avoid claims of a failure to negotiate promptly upon request…staff recommends that the Board adopt the proposed urgency ordinance suspending operation of COIN until all related litigation and appeals concerning the validity of the COIN have been exhausted. This will facilitate the commencement of labor negotiations while preserving the County’s legal position regarding this matter.”

Asked whether OCEA will be taking legal action over Tuesday’s move, Muir said the union will be responding swiftly in the coming days.

“The Board of Supervisors has demonstrated over and over again throughout the years that they will spend untold amounts of taxpayer money to take actions that advance their own personal political agendas, but that they have been repeatedly told are not legal. And they did that again today,” Muir said.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • OCservant_Leader

    This story highlights how disorganized building #10 is.

    County Council is supposed to issue the opinion that gives the stamp of approval to whatever the Board of Supes desires.

    Oops.

  • Jacki Livingston

    There is nothing that the County hates more than transparency. The Emperor has no clothes, and they are scared to death that the peons that elected them will see that they are completely incompetent. Everything that they do is behind closed door, whisper, hide…what a stupid game. Time for some truth telling here. The BoS is filled with cowards who protect the criminals and bullies that are at the top of the agencies’ food chains. They are completely unable to hold anyone accountable, because the management elite know too much about them. It is disgusting, and they are vile excuses for not only leaders, but human beings.

  • Jack Humphreville

    The City of Los Angeles needs transparency. It has entered into a preliminary deal with its civilian unions, but has refused to release any details until after the union vote. And in the past, the City Council has rushed approval of labor contracts without adequate time for analysis and comment.

    Based on my preliminary analysis, it appears that the new contract is a budget buster with many restrictive work rules.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    How does it feel Leon when nobody takes your advice / Welcome to crazy town – so much for being large and in charge.

    No HR Director – nobody in charge but the inmates I bet actual inmates could make better decisions. What a bunch of gutless wimps.

    So much for the their pet words, ” transparency” what a load of blah.

  • Steve W.

    Just below this story, there’s a fundraising pitch to “Invest in transparency” by donating to Voice of OC. This story about the OCEA’s reaction to COIN not being suspended could use some transparency: the OCEA has contributed more than a million dollars to Voice of OC.

    • Kathleen Tahilramani

      Yes…and your point is? How about you tell us all what is false, inaccurate or untrue about what is being reported here?
      Waiting…….

      • Steve W.

        The point? The point is the OCEA’s financial support of the Voice of OC should be disclosed when the Voice reports on OCEA.

        • Kathleen Tahilramani

          VOC has never hidden this fact. This has been disclosed many times. So, what about the article is incorrect or slanted reporting based on the VOC of OC funding? I don’t see it so please point it out.

          • Jacki Livingston

            OOOH, Katheen, more of Steve’s silence. Man, every time someone corners him, he just goes silent. No last name, profile locked…hmmm, don’t you wonder?

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            He is in mourning over the loss of his Big Boy Point.
            He thought he had a stunning revelation – and then found he was farting butterfly’s …. now he is so sad.

          • Jacki Livingston

            BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, Lord, I love you, Kathleen. You absolutely rock!

          • Steve W.

            “This has been disclosed many times.”

            No it hasn’t. It’s disclosed only sporadically. This publication would fold or drastically downsize without OCEA’s ongoing financial support. Don’t you think that requires disclosing the existence and size of that support in every article on county government? Since this site has posted many stories claiming electeds trading votes for a contribution, shouldn’t their financial dependence on the OCEA call into question their coverage of the county?

            This article doesn’t challenge Jennifer Muir’s over-the-top rhetoric about county worker rights being “trampled.” It just re-prints it uncritically.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Disclosed means ….it was disclosed – never been hidden. It is really hilarious to say that something was “disclosed sporadically”. that makes no sense.

            Then you state “This article doesn’t challenge Jennifer Muir’s over-the-top rhetoric about county worker rights being “trampled.” It just re-prints it uncritically.” Oh my my my that dear would be the

            opposite of yellow journalism.

            What a wizard…….

          • Steve W.

            It would make sense to someone who isn’t the Voice of OC’s number one sycophant. Disclosing here and there, once in a while, that OCEA has contributed to VOC isn’t genuine disclosure. Not every reader reads every article. It’s doubtful they know OCEA provides 50% of this site’s annual revenue. And by an amazing coincidence, this site’s continuous attacks on contracting out by the county tracks with OCEA’s opposition to contracting out.

            Also, I didn’t use the term “yellow journalism,” my dear. “Wizard” indeed.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Ah grasshopper – I did not accuse you of using the term yellow journalism – take a re-read. Sycophant – is that the term you toss when encounter a differing opinion? If anyone is interested, it is very easy to find out the source of VOC funding. The county would be in a lot less collective bargaining trouble if HR and the BOS adhered to the existing collective bargaining law, agreements, side letters, past practice etc.

          • Steve W.

            No, it’s a term I use to describe sycophants. Differing opinions don’t bother me. But it certainly bothers you to have this website’s financial dependence on the county employees union pointed out.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            I could care less where the VOC funding comes from as long as the news is presented. And, honestly so what if the funding comes from OCEA – the VOC covers many stories unrelated to OCEA issues. What I care about is that the VOC covers stories and provides interesting information on topics that papers such as the Register will not touch. If you are calling me a sycophant, well that’s a riot – if the Register had the guts to cover these topics I would be supportive. Oh wait,,,,,you forgot to answer my question: what has been reported by the VOC that was false? Still waiting.

  • David Zenger

    Government agencies are always using “litigation” real or “potential” to make decisions behind closed doors.

    In this case the Supervisors are obviously afraid to make it perfectly clear what they are doing, which is beautifully ironic given that COIN was meant to be all about transparency. They don’t want to look weak in dealing with the union, but they know they are going to lose a lawsuit. Now what kind of mental numbness puts somebody in this position.

    It’s now too late for the County not to look feckless and stupid; and it’s going to end up costing the taxpayers big time. Again.

    Very clearly nobody in Building 10 is in charge of anything. Wait for the press release from the Chairman claiming to be a victim.