October 11, 2011
On Oct. 9, 2011, Governor Brown announced the signing of AB 501, subjecting community college auxiliary organizations and joint powers agencies comprised of educational agencies to the Educational Employment Relations Act (“EERA”). These entities will now have the same obligations as school and community college districts and county offices of education in matters of labor relations and collective bargaining. Employees of these entities will now have the same rights to organize as employees of districts and county offices.
The law revises the statutory definition of a “public school employer” that is subject to the EERA to now include two categories of entities that were not previously covered: (1) auxiliary organizations established pursuant to Education Code section 72670 et seq. (except auxiliary organizations solely formed or operating as a student body association or student union), and (2) JPAs that are created as a separate legal entity with their own employees, and that provide educational services or are comprised solely of educational agencies. Insurance pooling JPAs are excluded, as are JPAs that do not have their own employees separate from employees of the member districts or county offices.
The new law, which takes effect January 1, 2012, will force major changes in how some community college foundations and JPAs conduct their affairs. The obligations of an employer under the EERA defy summary in this article, but among other things, these entities will now be required to remain neutral with respect to union organizing campaigns, to provide information to and bargain with employee unions, to provide unions with reasonable access to employees through bulletin boards, mailboxes, and other forms of communication, and to respond when unfair practice charges are filed with the Public Employment Relations Board. Importantly, these changes will not be limited to those entities where unions are actively attempting to organize employees, or where unions are eventually established. The EERA also provides important rights to individual employees even where no union is in the picture, including for example the right to assistance from coworkers when challenging working conditions or when facing discipline. Thus, all auxiliary organizations and JPAs subject to the law will need to have an understanding of the obligations of employers under the EERA.
Community college foundations and other organizations similarly affiliated with community college districts should immediately determine whether they are “auxiliary organizations” established in a manner that subjects them to the new law. An entity must be formed according to formal requirements specified in statute in order to have the benefits, and burdens, of “auxiliary organization” status, as defined. Some foundations operate on the assumption that they are established as “auxiliary organizations,” but may not actually be. Similarly, all entities established as JPAs of school or community college districts or county offices of education (eg, regional occupational program, SELPA, transportation, or business services JPAs), should immediately determine whether they are subject to the new law. Some JPAs may already operate according to the EERA. Others will need to begin doing so for the first time.
Unions will no doubt view this new law as a major organizing opportunity, as the vast majority of school and community college districts and county offices of education have already been unionized.
AALRR will offer briefings designed to help auxiliary organizations and JPAs get up to speed on their rights and obligations under the EERA. There will be a steep learning curve for many. The sooner they begin, the better prepared they will be when the new law goes into effect.