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County supervisors end impasse on labor relations board

Abby Sewell
This post has been updated. See below for details.
Supervisors appoint commissioner, breaking impasse on county employee relations panel.

Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to appoint a new member to the employee relations commission, sidestepping a standoff between unions and management that had left the panel unable to make decisions on hundreds of labor issues.

The three-member panel, which rules on labor disputes, has not had a quorum for more than a year, because unions and management were unable to agree on whom to appoint to a vacancy.

The supervisors voted 4-0, with Mark Ridley-Thomas abstaining, to appoint Pepperdine University law professor Anthony Miller, a specialist in employment and family law. With Miller's appointment, two of three slots on the panel will be filled, allowing it to conduct business.

In the past, labor and management had to agree on the appointment of all three commissioners. Last year, the supervisors voted to switch to a new system, under which labor and management each appointed one and only had to agree on the third.

Unions objected to the change, which is expected to reduce their sway on the panel, and launched a bid to have the Legislature override it only to see the proposed law vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

In the meantime, the commission had only one member -- the one appointed by management -- meaning there was no quorum to make decisions. 

Last month, supervisors approved a new rule that would allow them to name a working majority of the panel if unions and management fail to agree within 90 days of a seat opening.

The head of the Coalition of County Unions decried that move as illegal, saying the county should have conferred with unions before making the change.

[Updated at 4:57 p.m.: The Coalition also sent a letter to the board this week opposing the "unilateral" appointment of a commissioner by the board, saying the seat should be neutral. "To override this process and have an Employee Relations Commission with two management selected Commissioners and one labor selected Commissioner jeopardizes constructive labor relations," coalition chair Blaine Meek wrote].

Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents about 55,000 county employees, said Tuesday that his members had been suffering from the lack of a commission. 

Having a working commission again is "positive," he said, but he added, "I wish this had all happened a different way than it did."

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.

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