Employer Tries to Get Around Local 21 to Contract Out Jobs, Loses, and Ends Up Paying Members Money

Local 21 in Contra Costa recently settled an unfair labor practice charge after the County illegally contracted out bargaining unit work. The County did not provide notice or an opportunity for Local 21 to bargain, otherwise known as “meet and confer,” before making changes that could impact represented workers. The County also violated labor law by direct dealing with bargaining unit members in an effort to circumvent the meet and confer process.

Local 21 learned about the service contract in the summer of 2015 and requested a meet and confer with the County. Contracting out work was supposedly needed to address a backlog in building plan checks in the Department of Conversation and Development.

Later, Local 21 found out that the County had already contracted out the work prior to having a meet and confer with Local 21. The County also asked Local 21 members to sign a petition in support of contracting out their own work. This put members in a difficult position and was a violation of labor law.

The petition was an attempt to undermine Local 21’s efforts to address longstanding and very serious recruitment and retention issues within the division. A follow-up information request revealed that the “idea” and “suggestion” for the petition did not come from Local 21 members, but straight from management. Local 21 swiftly filed an unfair labor practice charge and the Public Employee Relations Board ruled in Local 21’s favor. This practice is known as “direct dealing” and is a violation of state labor law.

A mandatory settlement hearing took place in August 2016. With the assistance of Local 21 legal staff and a mediator assigned by the State, the parties were able to reach an agreement resolving the unfair labor practice charge. The agreement has multiple components.

First, the County shall cease and desist from contracting out any and all bargaining unit work without going through the appropriate meet and confer process. This should have already been in practice. 

The agreement also provides members who were asked to sign the petition with monetary relief.  Local 21 argued that by skirting the meet and confer process, the County failed to consider additional measures for addressing the backlog – such as making the impacted members eligible for overtime – and therefore monetary damages were warranted. 

Finally, because this is not the first time Local 21 has filed a successful unfair labor practice charge against Contra Costa County for this specific issue, Local 21 also made it a condition that all County Department Heads, Assistant Department Heads, Deputies, and Labor Relations representatives attend a mandatory training on the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA), which is the law governing labor-management relationships in California local governments. The County agreed to this, and also agreed to provide Local 21 with proof that it took place. We look forward to receiving that verification.

In the end, the unfair labor practice charge resulted in a fair and reasonable settlement. With the required training, we hope that this can be prevented from happening in the future.

A special thank you to Local 21 Steward Gabe Lemus and Chief Steward Margie Valdez for their work in representing their fellow members, and to the Local 21 team members Justin Decker and Ana Guzina for all their hard work!