The State Worker

California state worker union cancels strike set for Monday

A one-day strike by California’s largest state employee union, set for Monday, has been called off.

In a letter to members Friday, sent shortly after a Sacramento judge postponed a hearing requested by state officials seeking an injunction, SEIU Local 1000 announced that it would not proceed with its unprecedented work stoppage.

“After weeks of preparing for a strike, we have been in conversations with the state, and we both feel we have found a pathway forward,” Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said. “Therefore we have withdrawn our notice to strike and will continue bargaining today. Our goal has never been to go on strike. It has always been to get a contract we can all be proud of.”

The union, representing 95,000 members of the state workforce across nine of its 21 bargaining units, has been in negotiations since April with Gov. Jerry Brown over the terms of its contact, which expired July 1. Disagreements over a multiyear raise, gender pay inequities and how much members will contribute to their health care plans are still pending.

Despite not yet reaching a formal bargaining impasse, Local 1000 announced the strike last week coinciding with the first day of the new legislative session, a potentially embarrassing situation for the overwhelmingly Democratic members who are elected with support from organized labor.

While state employee unions have periodically authorized walkouts, including Local 1000 in 2009, none has ever actually taken place.

“We are pleased that the public will not have to face disruptions to state services on Monday,” California Department of Human Resources spokesman Joe DeAnda said in a statement. “We will continue to work with union leaders to finalize a formal agreement.”

The Brown administration previously called the planned work stoppage illegal because of a no-strike clause in the union’s contract and warned employees that they could face disciplinary action if they participated. Local 1000 countered that “bad-faith conduct” by the state justified the strike.

CalHR went to court this week in an effort to block the walkout. Late Thursday, the agency filed a request for a temporary restraining order in Sacramento Superior Court that would have prevented Local 1000 from carrying out the strike or, alternatively, prohibited certain “essential employees” from participating.

Its request followed an earlier decision by the Public Employment Relations Board that reduced the scope of relief the state could seek to a narrow group of about 5,900 workers in state hospitals, veterans homes, prisons and centers for the developmentally disabled whose services are considered critical to public health and safety.

Following a closed-door meeting in his chambers Friday afternoon, Judge Raymond M. Cadei continued the hearing on CalHR’s complaint until Dec. 13. DeAnda did not respond to questions about whether the state would continue to pursue legal action after Local 1000 called off the strike.

Some union members welcomed the cancellation.

Tamara McNary, an employee of the state treasurer’s office, said she was prepared to walk out on Monday despite fearing retaliation. She said she was glad there would not be a strike but hesitated to believe the two sides are finding common ground at the negotiating table.

“I’m a little uneasy about it just because I don’t have much faith,” McNary said. “I hope they can come to some good agreement.”

Thomas Mbara, who works for the State Board of Equalization, said he never intended to participate in the strike.

“I’m not going to put myself in jeopardy,” Mbara said. “The employer can fire you and lock you out. SEIU can’t.”

Taryn Luna of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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