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UC unions get heat for August strike

By David Scharfenberg
Saturday October 05, 2002


A state labor board has ordered UC Berkeley lecturers and clerical employees to defend the legality of a joint, late-August strike that led to class cancellations and other disruptions. 

If the campus employees can’t convince the Public Employment Relations Board that they were legally entitled to strike, the board could block future strikes and even impose fines. 

The board ordered meetings on the matter in response to university complaints about the Aug. 26-28 strike. 

Union and university officials will meet with PERB Regional Director Anita Martinez Nov. 14 to seek an informal resolution to the university’s legal concerns. If no agreement is reached, a formal hearing would follow with an official ruling by PERB. 

University officials hailed the PERB decision to hear their complaint as a victory. 

“It confirms the seriousness of the issue and clearly, to us, it signals that PERB wants to address these kinds of strike actions,” said University of California spokesperson Paul Schwartz. 

But union officials said they will be victorious in any PERB hearing. 

“It was, in fact, a legal strike and it will be determined to have been a legal strike,” said Margy Wilkinson, chief negotiator for the Coalition of University Employees, which represents 18,000 clerical workers in the nine-campus UC syCUE has been locked in contract negotiations with the university since last year, battling over wages and workplace safety. The next negotiating session is set for Oct. 10 and 11. 

The clerical and lecturers unions are not allowed to strike as a bargaining tactic, but can walk off the job if the university engages in any “unfair labor practices.”  

The unions have filed dozens of unfair labor practice charges against the university on a range of issues, including the university’s treatment of temporary employees, but has not received a PERB ruling on any of them. Nonetheless, Wilkinson said the filings form the basis for a valid strike. 

Schwartz, pointing to state law and past PERB rulings, said the unions cannot engage in a legal strike until they have exhausted the formal collective bargaining process, which includes state mediation among other measures. 

Robert Thompson, general counsel for PERB, said the case law is unclear. A series of PERB rulings in the 1980s would suggest that the unions cannot strike before exhausting the collective bargaining process, he said, but a mid-1980s California Supreme Court decision on a sanitation workers strike in Los Angeles County, granting public employees the general right to strike, may give ammunition to the unions. 

“That’s a pretty gray area,” he said. 

Thompson said the types of charges filed by the unions and the university in this case tend to fizzle out because the two sides reach a contract settlement before PERB rules on the charges and agree, as part of the settlement, to drop the charges. 

Michelle Squitieri, a union representative for the roughly 600 lecturers at UC Berkeley, said the university filed the illegal strike charge with PERB as an intimidation tactic, discouraging employees from future strikes. 

“This is not about intimidating employees,” Schwartz responded. “It’s about the unions honoring the collective bargaining process as stated in the law.” 



Contact reporter at scharfenberg@berkeleydailyplanet.netstem.