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Santa Monica Council Updates 46-Year-Old Labor Relations Rules

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

September 10, 2015 -- Richard Nixon was the nation’s president when the City Council approved rules for relations between the City administration and its employee labor groups, and they have never changed since that 1969 adoption -- until this week.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved adjustments to the rules that will put the City in line with State laws as well as decisions by courts and California’s Public Employment Relations Board.

Among the changes is that appeals of administrative decisions on labor group petitions will no longer go to the City Council. Instead, they will go to a mediator, and can be further appealed to an administrative hearing overseen by a judge.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said the reason for this change was because “there might be advantages to all concerned to take appeals out of the political realm.”

Council member Sue Himmelrich opposed this change. She looked to an appeal in March of this year that went to the Council in which beach maintenance workers who were transitioning from as-needed employees to full-time staff attempted to form a union.

“I do not believe that those beach workers and that the entire issue with as-needed employees would have been brought to light in the way it was without the process we went through with those particular workers,” Himmelrich said.

She made a motion to continue the policy of the Council overseeing appeals, but was unable to get support from any of her colleagues on the dais.

Council member Ted Winterer said the March appeal hearing (which Deputy City Attorney Meishya Yang said was the only one since the Council adopted the labor relations rules in 1969) was “heavily politicized,” and “we should steer away from being involved politically in any sort of labor decisions of that nature.”

The Council rejected the March appeal, with Himmelrich and Mayor Pro Tem Tony Vazquez being the only supporters.

Among those voting to reject the appeal was Mayor Kevin McKeown, who said in March that, among other reasons, his vote was because the unionization would unnecessarily complicate the Council’s decision two months earlier to transition the classification of the beach worker jobs from as-needed to regular City Hall positions.

McKeown on Tuesday reflected on the March decision when saying why he could not support allowing the Council to continue overseeing appeals.

“While we did the right thing (in March) for the right reasons, (the process) played out in a very political environment, which I don’t think helped us do the right thing for the right reasons,” McKeown said.

“And it might be better to keep that out of the political realm, and keep it in the realm of the law,” he added.

Despite her objection to this feature of the rule changes, Himmelrich voted with her colleagues in favor of the modifications.

None of the City’s labor groups opposed the rule changes, according to the City Attorney’s office. No representative of any of the groups spoke at the meeting on Tuesday.

The Council must vote on the changes a second time later this month for them to go into effect.

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