Regents of the University of California (2018) PERB Order Ad-459-H (Issued on 1/19/18)
The San Diego House Staff Association (Association) filed a petition for unit modification seeking to add employees to an existing bargaining unit. As proof of support, the Association provided printouts of employees’ electronic signatures in favor of representation by the union. The Office of the General Counsel dismissed the petition on the grounds that the Association did not provide the employees’ original signatures. The Board affirmed.
The Board held that it was bound by its own regulations which “permit only original signatures as proof of support by dues deduction authorization forms, membership applications, or authorization cards …” The Board noted that the NLRB has adopted standards for accepting proof of support with electronic signatures. But the Board held that it was not at liberty to adopt the NLRB standard since PERB’s regulations on this issue are clear.
Notably, the Board stated that,
We are not unsympathetic to the Association’s policy arguments in favor of accepting proof of support with electronic signatures. It may well be that our regulations’ narrowly defined “original” signature requirement is in need of an update to better correspond to the realities of the 21st Century. Accordingly, the Board will direct the Office of the General Counsel to review and make recommendations to us on whether regulatory amendments are appropriate to accommodate the creation, storage and use of electronic data as proof of support in representation matters and, if so, what safeguards are necessary to protect employee choice and legitimate privacy concerns.
- I’m generally in favor of moving away from paper and going electronic whenever possible. So conceptually, I am open to PERB adopting regulations that allow for the submission of electronic signatures for proof of support. However, PERB needs to be very stringent on the standards for accepting electronic signatures.
- As it is, I often hear about employees complaining to employers that they did not know, or did not understand, what they were signing when asked by the union to sign a card. This problem has the potential to be amplified if the standards for electronic signatures are too lax. However, if stringent standards are met, electronic signatures may actually be an improvement over the current system. For example, using a system like Docusign arguably forces an individual to carefully review a document before signing and may actually help avoid situations where an employee claims after-the-fact that he or she didn’t understand what was signed. Indeed, maybe going to an electronic system compliant with accepted legal protocols should be mandatory, instead of just an option. In any event, I’m willing to keep an open mind while we wait for the Office of the General Counsel to explore regulations in this area.