Union Wins Information Request Over City’s Confidentiality Claim
The California Court of Appeals upheld the Public Employment Relations Board’s ruling that a Union has a right to investigative reports about hostile work environments. A union member reported sexual harassment in the Customer Service Division of the Redding Electrical Utility. The City hired an investigator who unearthed concerns from other members about mismanagement. The investigator produced two reports. The Union requested these reports and accompanying witness statements. The Union explained that it needed the reports to determine the merits of a possible grievance regarding a hostile and offensive working environment, favoritism in promotions and pay raises, and unclear lines of supervision. The City refused to comply with the information request, claiming the investigator promised that the reports would remain confidential.
PERB ordered the City to produce the reports and witness statements to the Union with all names and identifying information redacted. PERB accepted the Union’s explanation that it needed the reports to evaluate the merits of potential grievances. The Union was entitled to the reports despite the fact that the Union had access to the witnesses themselves, the City had promised to keep the witness' statements confidential to the extent possible, the City had not disciplined any Union members, and the Union had no pending grievances with the City. On cross examination the City admitted that there was no truly confidential information in the reports but was protecting witnesses and management from the disclosure of the information. PERB rejected the idea that management can merely announce something is confidential and keep it secret. The Court of Appeals rejected the City’s appeal in a one sentence decision. This decision is a victory for the public, workers and their Unions. It helps Unions force cities to make staffing decisions based on merit rather than favoritism and helps Unions stop hostile work environments.