Court: Right to Privacy Prevents Release of Employee Addresses to Union

County of Los Angeles v. Los Angeles County Employee Relations Commission (Court of Appeal Case No. B217668) (Issued on 12/14/10)

Facts:

The Service Employees International Union, Local 721 (SEIU) represents several bargaining units in the County of Los Angeles (County). The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the County and SEIU contains an agency-shop agreement. In order to collect its agency fees, SEIU sends an annual Hudson notice to all employees. Historically, the union prepares the Hudson notice, the County prepares the mailing labels, and the County’s Employee Relations Commission (Commission) mails the notices. Using this process the union does not have access to the addresses of agency fee payers.

During negotiations in 2006, SEIU proposed that the process for mailing Hudson notices be changed so that SEIU would be provided the names and home addresses of the agency fee payers in the bargaining unit. The County refused. The Union then filed an unfair practice charge with the Commission.

Following a hearing, the Commission held that agency fee payers’ personal information was presumptively relevant to SEIU’s representation and therefore the union had a right to the information. The Commission rejected the County’s argument that the disclosure of agency fee payers’ personal information would violate their privacy rights.  Although the Commission acknowledged that privacy interests were at stake, it relied on NLRB and PERB precedent—including Teamsters Local 517 v. Golden Empire Transit District (2004) PERB Decision No. 1704-M (Golden Empire Transit)—to hold that the interests of the union outweighed that of the agency fee payers.

The case eventually went before the court of appeal. The court acknowledged that federal and state labor law recognized that employee home addresses of constituted information that is necessary to the collective bargaining process. (See, e.g., United States Department of Defense v. Federal Labor Relations Authority (1994) 510 U.S. 487, 493; Golden Empire Transit.) However, the court held that these authorities did not control over California’s constitutional right to privacy.

The Court held that under California’s right to privacy, County agency fee payers have a reasonable expectation of privacy that their personal information will remain confidential. Citing to Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc. v. Superior Court (2007) 40 Cal.4th 360, the Court held that agency fee payers are entitled to notice and an opportunity to object to the disclosure of their personal information. Responding to SEIU’s arguments, the Court held that:

“This opt-out notice procedure does not provide an unfair advantage to the County or a disadvantage to the Union in collective bargaining matters. (Citations omitted.) Rather, it recognizes the previously overlooked individual rights of the County employees. If, as the Union represented during oral argument, non-member County employees will not respond to the opt-out notice, the Union will obtain the personal information it wants and will do so in accordance with California’s privacy laws. In sum, we conclude before the County discloses the personal information of non-member County employees, it must give them notice and an opportunity to object.”

Comments:

  1. This case highlights the unique structure of the MMBA. Los Angeles County is subject to the MMBA. However, the County is expressly exempted from PERB. An unfair practice charge involving the County goes to the County’s Employee Relations Commission, not to PERB.  
  2. The Court’s holding in this decision is far-reaching.  The decision essentially overturns PERB’s Golden Empire Transit decision for all of California’s public employers. This is because the court based its decision on the right to privacy under the California constitution. The California constitution trumps the MMBA and all the other labor relations statutes governing public employers. Therefore if the California constitution requires an opt-out procedure before disclosing employee addresses to a union, that would trump any contrary decisional law by PERB.
  3. What should public employers do? Under court precedent, an individual may bring a cause of action for damages for a violation of the constitutional right to privacy.  (Hill v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn. (1994) 7 Cal.4th 1, 39-40.)  That’s why employers must be extremely cautious when dealing with issues involving privacy.  Employers would be wise to err on the side of caution.  Under this decision, employers who have provided employee addresses to the union in the past must consider implementing an opt-out system before making such disclosures in the future.
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