PERB Grants Unions Broad Physical Access to Public Sector Worksites

The Public Employee Relations Board (“PERB”) recently ruled that a public sector employer must grant a Union’s request to conduct health and safety inspections at a worksite in SEIU Local 1021 and County of San Joaquin, PERB Dec. No. 2775-M, SA-CE-1095-M.  Employers cannot categorically deny a Union’s inspection request claiming safety, security, or the allegedly sensitive nature of data present at the worksite.  Instead, employers must grant the request or offer reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions on the Union’s access for these inspections.

In this case, a large pipe ruptured at a County Health and Human Services Agency building.  PERB concluded that the County’s refusal to allow Union access immediately after the spill was legal based on a specific safety concern.  All the workers were evacuated, one member was sent to the hospital and no one had determined what material contaminated the worksite.  However, PERB ruled that the County’s blanket access refusal made the following day interfered with the Union’s right to represent its members, and employees’ rights to be represented by the Union, in violation of the Meyers Milias Brown Act (“MMBA”).  By then, the County knew that the content of the spill was not an airborne contaminant or otherwise highly hazardous, a cleanup was underway with technicians wearing only common construction site gear, and the County was allowing workers to access the site of the spill to retrieve belongings.  The County’s blanket refusal of a subsequent Union inspection request for dust and vermin in a lunchroom and work stations was also illegal.  PERB rejected the employer’s argument that the Union should not be allowed access because of the presence of sensitive and confidential information at employee workstations.  PERB found this excuse especially meritless because the employer did not raise these confidentiality concerns with the Union at the time it denied the Union’s request and because the employer allowed all manner of worksite access to various sorts of contractors and other vendors.

This case is a big deal.  PERB law has long provided Union access to information and employees on breaks.  There was a hole in PERB law regarding access to worksites.  PERB has fixed this problem and created law that is even more protective of worker rights than in the private sector.  It is now clear that when a Union representative arrives at a worksite, the employer cannot restrict or deny access unless the employer articulates specific non-discriminatory business reasons and any restriction or denial is narrowly drawn to avoid unnecessary interference with Union and employee rights.

Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld is pleased to have represented the Union in this case.  If you have any questions, please direct them to your labor law counsel.

By Matt Gauger | July 15, 2021

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