The Fullerton City Council voted unanimously last week to suspend a city ordinance on labor negotiations transparency in order to avoid having to disclose details on a large number of contract negotiations.
The decision made Fullerton the latest Orange County public agency to blink in a game of chicken with unions.
At issue is the Civic Openness in Negotiations (COIN) ordinance, which was passed by Fullerton and several other local jurisdictions in Costa Mesa, County of Orange, Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades as part of a coordinated effort to make public all offers and counteroffers in union negotiations. Historically the details of labor negotiations have remained secret until a final agreement is reached.
Public sector unions, which consider COIN ordinances an unfair attack on their right to collectively bargain for employees, responded last year by pushing a bill called Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act (CRONEY) through the state legislature. CRONEY mandates government agencies with COIN ordinances make public all negotiations with private venders involving contracts over $250,000.
Director of Human Resources Gretchen Beatty told Voice of OC that Fullerton has had no contract negotiations this year that would have kicked in CRONEY provisions.
The city council condemned the state law during their meeting last week and said that it’s an overreach of state government.
They directed city staff to come back with a resolution that would effectively reinstate COIN, but keep it out of CRONEY’s reach — city attorney Dick Jones advised the council that the state law only applies to ordinances and not resolutions.
“I also think that having a resolution on file informs the public that we’re not backing down on this council’s policy on transparency and openness,” Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald said during council deliberations.
Councilman Greg Sebourn wanted to take it a step further.
“I’d really like to ask this council to put forth a resolution condemning this Senate bill,” Sebourn said. The council plans to agendize the condemnation at a future meeting.
Orange County Employees Association (OCEA) attorney Donald Drozd said that the council’s action exposes their motives.
“An attempt to manufacture a loophole in order to avoid transparency simply exposes the cynical motives of those who place themselves above the law,” Drozd wrote in an email.
The OCEA played an immense role in getting CRONEY passed.
Last September, the Orange County Board of Supervisors suspended their COIN ordinance also to avoid the enforcement of CRONEY.
County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, a former Fullerton mayor, echoed much of the same sentiment as the City Council.
Over a phone interview, Nelson said it’s “bullshit” that the CRONEY law only applies to agencies across the state that have willingly adopted COIN. He said that if the state legislature is going to pass a law like CRONEY, it should have applied to all agencies.
“That was a crafty, ridiculous way to targeting only Orange County,” Nelson said. “What purpose is served if the government is used as a revenge tool,” he said of the public unions’ move to push CRONEY through state legislature.
OCEA General Manager Jennifer Muir has in the past responded to similar statements by saying CRONEY was simply a reaction to unfair tactics by anti-union politicians.
“It’s a huge victory for working people against discriminatory tactics by politicians who have put the interests of corporations who support their campaigns above good governing,” Muir has said.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. Please contact him at Scustodio21@csu.fullerton.edu.