The State Worker

Brown administration warns of discipline for employees who strike next week

SEIU Local 1000 members and supporters gathered at the Capitol on June 30, 2010, to protest a proposed cut to their salaries to the federal minimum wage.
SEIU Local 1000 members and supporters gathered at the Capitol on June 30, 2010, to protest a proposed cut to their salaries to the federal minimum wage. The Sacramento Bee file

California officials are pushing back on SEIU Local 1000’s plans for a one-day strike next week, warning employees that they could be subject to disciplinary action if they participate in what the state regards as an unlawful walkout.

At least one public agency sent out a memo Tuesday, a week after California’s largest union of state employees announced that it would picket on Dec. 5 amid ongoing contract negotiations, stating that “job actions such as work stoppages, strikes and sickouts are expressly prohibited by every contract between the State and exclusive bargaining representatives.”

“You are permitted to participate in informational picketing if you are doing so on your own time (e.g. before or after work, or if you have been approved for leave),” the California Department of Transportation wrote in the memo. But “employees who participate in an illegal job action,” it continued, “may be subject to disciplinary action, which may include time recorded as absence without leave.”

State employees who are considered absent without leave, whether voluntary or involuntary, for five consecutive days are “automatically resigned” from service.

Joe DeAnda, spokesman for the California Department of Human Resources, said the state issued guidance this week to departments on how to communicate with employees about the possible strike. He did not have further comment about Caltrans’ memo, but said it reflected what Cal HR told other agencies.

Local 1000, which represents 95,000 workers in nine of the state’s 21 bargaining units, alleges the Brown administration “has committed an unfair labor practice by bargaining in bad faith” since talks began in April. Though much of its contract has been settled, the two sides have yet to agree on the terms of a proposed four-year raise and an increase in employee contributions for health care.

A strike, which state employee unions periodically authorize but have never followed through on, would be unprecedented. It could also disrupt the first day of the new legislative session and the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, both of which are also scheduled for Dec. 5.

Local 1000 is already disputing the state’s argument that a work stoppage would be illegal because of the no-strike clause in its contract, telling members last week that a 1984 Public Employment Relations Board order “can serve as a defense.”

Another union also still locked in bargaining with Brown, the International Union of Operating Engineers, has planned its own demonstration for Friday morning before work. The union, which has raised concerns over similar issues of pay and health care premiums, declared an impasse in negotiations in October.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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