I recently wrote about SB 548 here. SB 548 codifies PERB Regulation 32147 on expediting cases. However, as any PERB practitioner can tell you, that regulation is relatively toothless as it only requires the Board to give “priority” to an expedited case “in the manner determined to be appropriate by … the Board itself, the General Counsel, or the Chief Administrative.”
The California Professional Firefighters union, one of the sponsors of SB 548, clearly knows the weakness of PERB Reg 32147. That’s why SB 548 also provides criteria upon which PERB must expedite a case. Significantly, SB 548 requires that an expedited case be decided by the Board within 150 days.
I found the comments in the Legislative analysis to be very interesting:
[D]espite the important role that the PERB plays in resolving labor disputes, the organization’s staffing has not kept pace with its workload. This has led to an agency that is committed to its mission, but unable to deliver. The investigative period alone now takes three times longer than what the PERB itself has deemed a ‘reasonably effective’ timeline.
The Legislative analysis goes on to assert that public employers are taking advantage of the delays at PERB. For example, the analysis asserts that one employer tactic is to “deny a union’s request for information … which effectively stalls negotiations since the union must then wait for the PERB to investigate and rule on their complaint.”
- Perhaps I’m being naive, but I think the idea of a public employer denying an information request for the express purpose of delaying negotiations is a very rare situation. This is because as employers, we have the right to say, “no”; so why wouldn’t we just do that instead of trying to “delay” bargaining.
- It’s possible that CPF is referring to situations involving mandatory interest arbitration. I can understand why an employer may not be eager to rush into interest arbitration. But in interest arbitration, the parties almost always have the right to issue subpoenas for relevant information.
- Regardless, I’m not opposed to the intent behind this bill. It’s written in a way that any party, including employers, can request to have a case be expedited. Back during the great recession when employers were the ones seeking concessions, I remember vividly all the tactics used by the unions to delay negotiations. So this process will aid employers when the next recession inevitably arrives. However, I remain concerned that the 150 day deadline is too short for a case to go from intake to a final Board decision.