The County Voice

AB 2835 is a Solution in Search of a Problem

This originally ran as an Op-Ed in the East Bay Times, Friday, August 12.

As the Legislature closes in on the end of this two-year legislative cycle, we’d like to shed some light on a particularly onerous bill that, if passed, will cost $350 million annually to taxpayers without providing any discernible benefit to employees, only the unions that represent them. AB 2835 by Assembly Member Jim Cooper is a solution in search of a problem.

It would force our local governments to provide in-person orientations to each new employee during work hours within the first two months of their hiring. Fortunately, cities, counties and special districts already do that. We often spend the better part of a full day educating new employees on the benefits available to them, policies on harassment and violence, and how to respond to possibly harmful workplace situations. Our employees begin their public service with the knowledge they need to serve their communities.

However, AB 2835 isn’t limited to just what information our local agencies would provide in these orientations. This legislation would require local governments to set aside half of an hour – within the first hour of any orientation we provide — for each union representing public employees to speak, with almost zero restrictions , to new employees. It won’t matter if local governments are using an online or video orientation to maximize tax dollars and avoid unnecessary travel expenses. It won’t matter if a police officer or firefighter should be on-call to respond to emergencies instead of meeting with his or her union representative. Every employee. In-person. Thirty minutes during the first hour of an orientation. Every time.

This requirement places an administrative, financial, and logistical burden on local government employers. It won’t matter if there is one new employee or 350 new employees represented by ten different unions, they would each receive 30 minutes to address their members. The scheduling alone could be a nightmare. The state’s Department of Finance last week said it best: “… provisions of this bill conflict with and circumvent various collective bargaining laws that provide a forum to address these issues without the need for legislation… this mandate would cost more than $70 million annually for local governments and more than $280 million annually for school districts.”

As the leaders of the statewide associations representing counties, cities and special districts, we strongly believe your tax dollars would be better spent repairing streets and roads, providing clean drinking water and hiring enough law enforcement officers to make sure our communities are safe.

We acknowledge the important role unions play in the public sector, but we don’t believe that there should be a statewide requirement dictating how local governments orient their employees. Many, cities, counties and special districts already have agreements with unions in place to ensure our employees are aware of their representation when it comes to pay and benefits. Unions can speak to their employees during lunch hours, specified time periods throughout our new hire orientations, and in countless other manners that have been agreed to by both our management and employee representatives.

AB 2835 applies a one-size fits-all approach to how our local governments manage our employees’ time and how we allocate our limited budgets. It tramples on the relationships our agencies have established with labor unions by prescribing how we negotiate with them. It’s an expensive solution in search of a problem.

Our roads are in desperate need of repair and expansion; our law enforcement is stretched thin on the streets of our communities −many of which are lined by the homeless in desperate need of services – and the drought has driven up water rates across the state. Taxpayer dollars should go to these vital needs, not toward creating a mandatory forum for union orientations

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