Employee observers can’t ‘tag along’ with union negotiators for bargaining sessions

October 10, 2016

Employment Law BookDoes California law permit employee observers to attend bargaining sessions between union and employer negotiators?

That’s the question recently posed to the California Public Employment Relations Board. Petaluma Federation of Teachers v. Petaluma City Elementary School District, 2016 WL 4191362, 41 PERC 23 (Cal. PERB 2016) (PERB No. 2485).

The board ruled that a California school district properly excluded employee observers from being present at bargaining sessions with negotiators for both parties.

The issue arose during negotiations for a successor bargaining agreement between the teachers’ union and the district.

The school district’s representatives refused to meet with union representatives so long as employee observers were in the meeting room. The parties became engaged in a dispute over whether there was an “established practice” of permitting employee observers at negotiations.

The California Board said the district did not change a past practice of permitting employees to attend negotiations. The district did not unlawfully adhere to the rule set forth in the California Educational Employment Relations Act concerning the presence of employees at negotiations, the board decided.

That rule provides that negotiations will only occur between the designated representatives of the employer and the union as bargaining agent, the board explained

(Westlaw users: Click here for the latest from the California Public Employee Reporter.)

The board reasoned that the presence of employees at negotiations would effectively allow the employer to engage in improper direct dealing with employees rather than their statutory representative.

Here, if the union wished for employee observers to attend negotiations, it must bargain with the school district for the right to do so, the board explained.