Senate Passes Atkins’ Bill to Strengthen Firefighter Labor Rights

Thursday, May 4 2017

The California Senate today passed SB 548, legislation by Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) that will allow local firefighters to take claims of unfair labor practices to court if the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) is unable to rule on their grievances within 150 days or opts not to issue a decision. The vote was 30-4.

By law, local firefighters may not go on strike amid labor disputes with their employers; they’re limited to filing grievances with PERB. Unfortunately, PERB’s staffing has not kept pace with an increase in workload, compromising its ability to provide timely solutions under the collective bargaining process.

“There is no doubt that the Public Employee Relations Board is committed to effectiveness and efficiency, but, unfortunately, the agency has been unable to deliver,” Atkins said. “SB 548 creates an alternative path for hardworking firefighters to settle their claims.”

PERB’s Office of General Counsel has determined that 60 days is a reasonably effective period to complete investigations and issue determinations in an unfair practice case, but, currently, the average exceeds six months.

Under SB 548, if PERB fails to issue a decision within 150 days, a firefighter employee organization may request a right-to-sue notice at any point after the 151st day until the date that PERB issues a final decision. If PERB dismisses the charge for failure to provide sufficient evidence to present a case, then PERB must simultaneously issue a right-to-sue notice to the firefighter employee organization.

SB 548 now heads to the state Assembly for consideration. It is Atkins’ third bill to clear the Senate, following SB 214 (San Diego River Conservancy) and SB 230 (evidence in sex-trafficking cases).