On July 11th, PERB obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against AFSCME Local 3299 from the San Francisco Superior Court. The TRO enjoins members of AFSCME’s Service Unit and Patient Care Technical Unit at the University of California—approximately 19,000 total employees—from engaging in a threatened strike beginning July 14th. In seeking injunctive relief, PERB asserted that AFSCME had engaged in bad faith bargaining and that the strike by patient care employees would pose a serious threat to the delivery of care to UC patients. Although the threat to public health and safety was one of the grounds for seeking injunctive relief, the TRO appears to enjoin all members of AFSCME Local 3299 from striking, not just those employees in sensitive health and safety positions.
This is one of the first times in recent memory that PERB has moved to enjoin a strike on the grounds that it threatens public health and safety. PERB’s jurisdiction to enjoin health and safety strikes is an issue that has been heavily litigated this past year. Recently, the California Supreme Court granted review in City of San Jose v. Operating Engineers Local No. 3 (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 951 to decide whether PERB has exclusive jurisdiction over health and safety strikes. One of the issues fanning the debate over PERB’s jurisdiction is the question of whether PERB’s injunctive relief procedures allow it enough time to intervene in strikes that threaten public health and safety and that are often called by unions with little or no notice. Here, on July 2nd AFSCME apparently informed the UC that it would be going to strike, although it did not provide the dates of the strike. Nevertheless, that was enough time for the UC to file a charge and injunctive relief request with PERB and for PERB to process the request and go into court in time to stop the strike before patient lives were endangered.
One interesting note: According to the July 12th edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, Lakesha Harrison, President of AFSCME Local 3299, was quoted as saying that AFSCME Local 3299 would strike despite the court order. Presumably, cooler heads will prevail and AFSCME will obey the court order. If not, and AFSCME knowingly defies the court order by going on strike, the penalties imposed by the court will undoubtedly be severe.