SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) -- The California Supreme Court ruled last month that a union, representing all Los Angeles County employees, is entitled to obtain the home addresses and phone numbers of all represented employees, including those who have not joined the union.
In its May 30 opinion, the state's high court agreed with lower courts that the Service Employees International Union Local 721 is so entitled, but reversed the state Court of Appeal's imposition of procedural requirements limiting disclosure.
"State and federal labor decisions have long held that unions are presumptively entitled to contact information for all employees they represent. These decisions, and applicable labor laws, generally obligate the County to give SEIU the requested information," Justice Carol Corrigan wrote for the court. "Whether the right to privacy under article I, section 1 of the California Constitution prohibits disclosure is a question of first impression."
The court concluded that, although the county's employees have a "cognizable" privacy interest in their addresses and numbers, the balance of interests "strongly favors" disclosure of the information to the union that represents them.
"Procedures may be developed for employees who object to this disclosure," Corrigan added. "However, the Court of Appeal exceeded its authority in this administrative mandate proceeding by attempting to impose specific procedures on the parties."
During negotiations in 2006, SEIU proposed amending its Memorandum of Understanding as follows: "To facilitate the carrying out of this responsibility [to provide Hudson notices], each year the County shall furnish the Union with the names and home addresses of employees in [the] bargaining units covered by agency shop provisions."
SEIU also sought contact information for other reasons. As the exclusive bargaining representative, SEIU wanted to communicate with all county employees, members or otherwise, about union activities and events. It also wanted the information for recruitment and investigation of grievances.
The county rejected the amendment, arguing that contact information was not relevant to any collective bargaining issue and disclosure would violate nonmembers' privacy rights.
The county proposed either to continue the current arrangement or to negotiate a procedure for employees to release their own data.
SEIU opposed these alternatives, withdrew its proposal to modify the notice provision and filed a charge with the Los Angeles County Employee Relations Commission, alleging an unfair employee relations practice.
After a three-day hearing, an administrative hearing officer concluded the county's refusal to provide the contact information was an unfair labor practice.
Relying on decisions by the Public Employment Relations Board and the National Labor Relations Board, the hearing officer held the contact information was "presumptively relevant" to SEIU's representation.
While acknowledging that privacy interests were at stake, the hearing officer found the county had not met its burden to show that the nonmembers' privacy interest outweighed SEIU's need for the information.
ERCOM adopted the hearing officer's findings and ordered disclosure.
The county sought a writ of administrative mandate, urging that nonmembers had a constitutional privacy right that justified nondisclosure.
Although a superior court concluded nonmember county employees had a legally protected privacy right and disclosure of their contact information constituted a "non-trivial" invasion of that right, it also held that SEIU needed the information to fulfill its duty to represent all county employees in collective bargaining.
The county sought review, and the appellate court reframed the issue.
It agreed with the trial court that nonmember employees had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their home addresses and phone numbers. However, the court did not balance the expectation of privacy against SEIU's need for the information.
Instead, it characterized the question as whether a nonunion employee "has a reasonable expectation under California privacy laws that he or she will be provided notice and an opportunity to object before" contact information is disclosed to the union.
Importing a procedure from class action litigation, the court held nonmember employees were entitled to notice and an opportunity to opt out before their addresses and numbers could be disclosed to SEIU.
SEIU, in response, sought the high court's review.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.