MCLE Self-Study: The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act at 50
By Tim Yeung
Tim Yeung is managing partner in the Sacramento office of Sloan Sakai Yeung & Wong LLP. His practice is dedicated to labor and employment law with an emphasis on defending employers in employment litigation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (916) 258-8803.
Fifty years ago, California became one of the first states to give public employees the right to "collectively bargain" with their government employers, with the 1968 passage of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA).1 While the MMBA only applied to employees of counties, cities, and special districts, it paved the way for subsequent laws covering almost all public employees in California. Some writers have credited Jerry Brown, during his first term as Governor, with opening the door to allowing public employees to unionize.2 But it was Ronald Reagan, a former President of the Screen Actor’s Guild union, who signed the MMBA.
In the private sector, employees gained modern-day collective bargaining rights with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935. The NLRA was part of the "New Deal" package of reforms signed by President Roosevelt during the Great Depression.3 The NLRA gave employees the right to form unions, bargain collectively with employers, and the right to strike. The NLRA also created a three-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to adjudicate unfair practices such as an employer’s refusal to bargain with a union. However, these rights did not apply to public employees, as the NLRA expressly excludes coverage of states and political subdivisions of states.4