Public Employment Relations Board rules San Francisco City & County workers have right to strike
The Board struck down provisions in the city charter prohibiting strikes
On July 24, the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) struck down provisions in the San Francisco City Charter that violated city workers’ rights.
On the list of violations: prohibiting city workers from striking; requiring termination of striking city workers; and stripping workers rehired after striking of their seniority.
The decision clears the way for San Francisco City and County workers to strike if needed for the first time in half a century. It’s a right they have not had since the provisions were added to the city charter through a ballot measure in 1973 following the first and only strike by SF municipal workers, which shut down city and county services for several days.
San Francisco City and County may no longer require employees to sign a form upon hire agreeing that they may be terminated if they engage in a strike or work slowdown.
SEIU Local 1021 and IFTPE Local 21 had filed the PERB charges asking the Board to throw out these provisions in March 2019. This PERB ruling affirms and expands upon the preliminary ruling issued by an administration law judge in 2022 siding with SEIU 1021 and IFTPE 21 on the unlawfulness of the charter provisions.
In the landmark decision, PERB found that the charter’s declaration that all public sector strikes “constitute a serious threat to the lives, property, and welfare of the citizens of the City” was overly broad and not aligned with the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA), the 1968 state law that established collective bargaining rights for municipal, county, and local special district employees. PERB also referenced the California Supreme Court’s assertions in the case of County Sanitation District 2 v. Los Angeles County Employees Association that “obviously the right to strike is central to the viability of a labor union” and “a union lacking a strike threat will wither away in ineffectiveness.”
“This is a powerful win for city workers,” SEIU 1021 President Theresa Rutherford told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’re very happy that the right thing was done. This frees us up. It gives us the most powerful thing any labor organization has, which is the ability for its workers to be able to strike. It’s a leverage that every union must always have when you go to the bargaining table.”
San Francisco City and County contracts expire June 30, 2024. The over 18,000 City and County workers represented by SEIU 1021 are currently in the process of electing their bargaining teams in preparation for a tough fight as healthcare costs rise and the City projects declining revenue. The right to strike will be essential to ensure that City workers’ voices are heard and services prioritized in the new budget.