|Budget Issue:||Meeting ALRB Workload Needs|
|Program:||Agricultural Labor Relations Board|
|Finding or Recommendation:||Approve the Governor's proposal, but make staff for new regional offices limited term. Additionally, require ALRB to report to the Legislature as part of the 2017-18 budget process on workload and outcomes to reassess ongoing staffing needs.|
Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) Established Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB). In 1975, the Legislature enacted the ALRA, which established collective bargaining rights for farmworkers. The act also established the ALRB. The law gives ALRB two principal duties: (1) the administration and certification of elections in which agricultural employees choose whether they want to be represented by a union and (2) the resolution of unfair labor practice complaints by employers and labor organizations.
ALRB Has Two Divisions. The ALRB is composed of two divisions: (1) the General Counsel and (2) a five-member board (hereafter referred to as “the Board”). The ALRA defines specific activities and practices that prevent free exercise of employee rights, known as unfair labor practices (ULPs). When a ULP charge is filed, the General Counsel conducts an investigation and can issue a complaint if it believes that a ULP has taken place. The General Counsel currently has regional offices in Visalia, Salinas, and Oxnard from which these investigations are conducted. The Board then provides a hearing to determine whether the complaint is substantiated. In practice, hearings are conducted by Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), but may be appealed to the Board. Parties that are dissatisfied with Board decisions may appeal them to higher court, at which point the Board is responsible to defend its decisions.
Additional Resources Recently Approved for the General Counsel. As part of the 2014-15 budget package, the Legislature approved $1.4 million (General Fund) and 5 positions ongoing to address increased workload. Including these new positions and funding, the budget for ALRB in 2014-15 includes total funding of $8.3 million ($7.2 million General Fund) and 50.5 authorized positions.
For 2015-16, the Governor’s budget includes total funding of $9.5 million ($8.3 million General Fund) and 63.5 authorized positions. Within this total funding amount, the Governor proposes an increase of $1.6 million (General Fund) and 13 new positions. Proposed new positions are as follows:
Three Limited-Term Positions for the Board to Address Hearing and Appeals Workload. For the Board, the proposal includes three positions (two limited-term ALJs and one attorney) to help address increased requests for hearings by the General Counsel and to allow the Board to defend an increasing number of appealed decisions in court.
Six Permanent Positions for the General Counsel to Open New Regional Offices. The proposal includes six positions for General Counsel (two attorneys, two field examiners, and two senior legal typists) to open two new regional offices—one in Northern California and the other in the desert region of Southern California (specific locations have not been identified). The proposal also includes funding for the purchase of two fleet vehicles and other costs associated with opening the new regional offices.
Three Permanent Positions for the General Counsel for Existing Regional Offices. The proposal includes an additional three administrative positions for General Counsel (two staff services analysts and a legal secretary). The staff services analysts are proposed to collect and analyze workload data and provide other administrative support in the Visalia and Salinas regional offices. The legal secretary is requested to increase administrative support for the Oxnard regional office.
Chief of Administration to Provide ALRB Oversight. Finally, the proposal includes a Chief of Administration that would oversee budgeting, accounting, procurement, and personnel activities for both divisions. The administration notes that recent audit findings suggest that ALRB’s current internal controls and oversight of administrative activities are inadequate. The Chief of Administration is proposed in part to address these findings.
Board’s Workload Has Grown Due to Increased General Counsel Activity and Recent Complex Cases. The number of ULP complaints issued by the General Counsel has increased significantly in recent years and is expected to remain above historical levels, resulting in increased requests for hearings by the Board. Additionally, the Board reports that significant resources are currently being absorbed by a few complex cases that will be resolved in the coming year. The significant demands of these pending cases make it unlikely that the Board will be able to address an increased number of hearing requests from the General Counsel in the near term. Additionally, the Board reports that an increasing number of Board decisions are being appealed, increasing workload related to defending board decisions. The Governor’s proposal to provide additional ALJ and attorney positions appears reasonable in light of workload demands. Limiting authority for these positions to a term of two years—as proposed by the Governor—is appropriate, as the complex cases currently before the Board will be resolved and the Board may be able to address additional hearing requests and appeal workload without additional staff at that point.
No Issues With Proposed Administrative Staff. In general, we find the request for additional administrative staff in the General Counsel and the Chief of Administration for ALRB to be reasonable. The staffing model used by the General Counsel has changed in recent years, including changes to the composition of investigation teams and a shift to placing staff in regional offices closer to farmworker employment sites. The staff services analysts positions proposed for the Visalia and Salinas regional offices (the General Counsel’s two primary regional offices) could allow for better evaluation of the effectiveness of these recent staffing changes. In particular, new data and analysis generated through these positions could be useful for the Legislature in assessing the ongoing justification for the proposed additional regional offices. The proposed Chief of Administration position is a reasonable way to respond to concerns raised in the recent audit. We similarly raise no issues with the proposed full-time legal secretary for the Oxnard regional office.
Additional Workload for Proposed New Regional Offices Is Uncertain. The General Counsel established its small regional office in Oxnard in 2012. Establishing similar additional small regional offices in Northern California and the desert region in Southern California would continue this concept of placing smaller regional offices closer to the employment sites of farmworkers. However, it is important that staff for additional regional offices be justified by workload demands. The administration has indicated that the proposed new positions to staff the new regional offices—proposed to be permanent—are intended primarily to address new emerging workload resulting from ULP charges that would not otherwise be filed, rather than addressing unmet workload for the existing regional offices. It is reasonable to expect that having regional offices closer to farmworker employment sites could increase the number of ULP charges filed; however, this additional workload is uncertain. Furthermore, General Counsel workload related to current pending cases may also decrease in the future, potentially allowing for existing resources to be redirected to staff new regional offices. Accordingly, given this uncertainty, limited-term positions would be more appropriate. At the end of the limited term, ongoing staffing needs could be assessed.
Approve Governor’s Proposal, But Make Staff for New Regional Offices Limited Term. We find that (1) additional temporary resources are appropriate to enable the Board to address increased hearings and appeals workload, (2) the request for additional administrative staff is reasonable and could result in increased accountability and transparency, and (3) while creating new regional offices may have merit, approving permanent positions is not justified at this time on a workload basis. Accordingly, we recommend that the Legislature approve the Governor’s proposal, with the exception that six positions intended to staff proposed new regional offices be approved on a two-year limited-term basis.
Require ALRB to Report on Workload and Administrative Efficiency as Part of the 2017-18 Budget Process. To better assess the ongoing need for additional resources to staff new regional offices, and to evaluate the effectiveness of recent reforms to General Counsel staffing practices, we recommend that the Legislature require ALRB to report on workload and outcomes at each of the regional offices at the end of the limited term for the new positions (as part of the 2017-18 budget process).