Capitol Alert

Should taxpayers foot bill for public union orientation meetings?

Aaron McLear, right, a spokesman for then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, accepts petitions from Lowell Landowski, left, a member of the Service International Employees Union (SEIU) at the entrance to the Governor’s Office in Capitol on, June 19, 2009.
Aaron McLear, right, a spokesman for then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, accepts petitions from Lowell Landowski, left, a member of the Service International Employees Union (SEIU) at the entrance to the Governor’s Office in Capitol on, June 19, 2009. Special to The Bee

A California bill requiring government workers to attend orientation meetings in which unions make a pitch about their benefits has been revived by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Amended in recent weeks, Assembly Bill 2835 would mandate that newly hired government employees attend an on-site meeting during regular work hours and permit unions to present for 30 minutes within an hour of the orientation’s opening. That provision would presumably give unions priority billing before workers slip away.

The meetings were first contemplated last year as a way to discourage employees from withdrawing from unions as the Supreme Court was poised to allow nonunion members to avoid the “fair share” fees they pay in lieu of full union dues.

In January, the court, led by the conservative majority, looked ready to strike down the mandatory fees collected by the California Teachers Association and other public-sector unions. But the death of Justice Antonin Scalia caused the court to deadlock, 4-4, lifting the immediate threat to unions.

The author of the revived measure, Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, said through a spokesman that the idea behind the meetings remains relevant.

Within two years, more than 40 percent of the current state workforce will be allowed to retire, and the expected influx of new blood replacing them will need a “proper orientation” to their overall benefits, including the option to join a union, spokesman Skyler Wonnacott said.

The bill will receive its first major test before a policy committee next week. On Wednesday, local governments began voicing their concerns.

The coalition, including cities, counties, school boards, superintendents and community college officials, said they worry the bill will increase costs and expand the scope of collective bargaining.

“Placing the details of employee orientations in statute would create costly logistical and administrative burdens for schools, counties, cities and special districts,” the group wrote.

They added, “AB 2835 fails to take into consideration the varied circumstances of the public agencies that would be subject to its requirements.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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