Friday, October 16, 2009

PERB Stops Strike in Palo Alto

On September 23, 2009, PERB sought and received a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the superior court prohibiting certain health and safety employees in the City of Palo Alto from engaging in a strike called by SEIU Local 521. That TRO applied to public safety dispatchers, water quality control operators, mechanics, and electrical workers, among other employee classifications. On October 15, 2009, the court issued a preliminary injunction, extending the injunction set forth in the TRO indefinitely. In the preliminary injunction, the court specifically found that:

“1. Plaintiff has established the probable validity of its claims and the probability that there is an immediate danger that Defendant SEIU will violate the Government Code by engaging in a strike or work stoppage. Failure to issue this Preliminary Injunction would result in an imminent threat to public health, safety and welfare.

2. This is a proper case for issuance of a Preliminary Injunction, and unless a Preliminary Injunction issues, the City of Palo Alto will face substantial and irreparable injury.”


This is only the second time this year that PERB has sought injunctive relief on behalf of a party. The first was back in July when PERB obtained a TRO against AFSCME Local 3299, prohibiting it from engaging in a strike against the University of California. Since then PERB has received several requests for injunctive relief, mainly by unions seeking to prevent employers from imposing last, best and final offers. To date, all those requests have been denied, presumably because PERB found no “irreparable harm" as any violation could be remedied later on.

In contrast, PERB has appeared willing to grant requests for injunctive relief when health and safety employees threaten to strike. In my opinion, this is as it should be. By definition, strikes by health and safety employees have the potential to cause irreparable harm to the general public. As such, these situations are tailor-made for PERB’s injunctive relief powers. Quite frankly, I still believe it would be more efficient and make more sense to allow public entities to go directly to superior court to seek injunctive relief, instead of having to detour to PERB first. However, I'm glad that PERB has acted aggressively in stopping these strikes.