There's loud posturing going on in Sacramento as two large public employee unions make noises about striking to protest pay cuts and layoffs that were made to balance the state budget.
It not only would be illegal for either the Service Employees International Union or the California Correctional Police Officers Association to go on strike, it would be foolhardy. Although the unions dispute these points, we suspect they know they are true.
In a vote last weekend, the larger of the two unions, SEIU's Local 1000, representing 95,000 government workers, saw 74 percent of its membership approve a strike authorization. But union leaders were quick to temper vote results, saying no strike is imminent. That's probably because sanctions flow once public employees strike, but they can vote all they want with impunity.
At best the union issued a threat, and when all's said and done, probably a hollow threat. Meanwhile, 33,000 corrections officers may follow SEIU in the coming week and vote to authorize a strike of their own.
We think the leadership of both unions is making a show of standing up for members by holding the votes, and whipping up workers into just enough of a frenzy to get strike authorizations. We'd be surprised to see anyone walk off a job, which would result in having pay docked and discipline, including firing.
Lynelle Jolley, spokeswoman for the state Department of Personnel Administration, tells us even though both unions' contracts have lapsed, the terms remain in force and expressly prohibit strikes by either bargaining unit. Moreover, Ms. Jolley said, prison guards are public safety employees additionally barred by law from striking because of the essential nature of their work.
Unions claim exceptions apply to the contractual and legal bans on striking because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger engaged in unfair labor practices, imposed three-day-a-month unpaid furloughs and laid off 4,600 workers, including 3,000 correctional officers.
We have advice for these unions. Strike at your own peril. Public sentiment won't be on your side in a state where unemployment hovers at 11.5 percent, and many of those who are employed face furloughs and pay cuts. There's little sympathy for civil service-protected government workers whose pay and, especially, fringe benefits exceed the private sector's.
So, strike if you will, but you may well find yourself out of work and a long line of applicants more than willing to take your old jobs, perhaps even at lower pay grade. That could save the cash-poor state government a few extra bucks. Or perhaps state government and the people it serves may find they can live entirely without filling the job you used to have. That would save more yet.