The State Worker

Fallout from California state union's contract rejection ripples through system

So what’s next, now that the International Union of Operating Engineers’ members in state Bargaining Unit 13 have rejected their contract and authorized their board to call a strike?

• If history is a guide, it’s unlikely that engineers would walk off the job. The law forbids it and no state-employee union under gubernatorial authority has ever staged a strike. But there are plenty of other things the engineers could do.

The 850 employees in the union operate vast heating, cooling and water delivery systems for prisons, state parks and other government-run facilities around the state. Work slowdowns or a sickout could impact operations statewide, including those at the Capitol. Those actions, like striking, also are illegal but can be more difficult to prosecute.

“Those buildings could get awfully hot. And we have 140 water operators in state parks,” IUOE negotiator Steve Crouch said in a telephone interview last week. “Not that I’m trying to leverage that.”

• The IUOE vote increases the likelihood that the state scientists’ union will reject a similar deal that goes to its members for a vote in a few days. There’s comfort in numbers.

Like the operating engineers, the scientists’ union argued that their members deserved more than the phased in 4.5-percent “SEIU deal” that the administration offered. And, like the operating engineers’ leaders, the scientists’ board is sending out the tentative contract without recommending members ratify it.

A “no” vote by the scientists won’t authorize a strike, however, which lowers the stakes for members on the fence.

• A better deal for IUOE also would increase the likelihood that the scientists will reject their tentative offer.

Crouch said last week that the union would need to get a deal done by mid-June to give the Legislature time to act on it before they take their July recess. Right around that same time, members of California Association of Professional Scientists will send out ballots to members who will vote whether to ratify a contract that is very similar to the deal the operating engineers rejected.

A spokesman for the scientists’ union declined to comment on the impact of the operating engineers’ negotiations.

But say the governor agreed to a 6 percent raise for the operating engineers next week, right ahead of scientists receiving ratification ballots for a 4.5 percent salary increase. How do you think that vote would go?

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