Gov. George Deukmejian and legislative Republican leaders on Monday accused the California Supreme Court of insensitivity to the public by granting state and local government employees the right to strike.
But while they predicted that steps would be taken to overturn the decision, most GOP leaders agreed that there is little likelihood those efforts would succeed in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
The governor said that for now, the public is protected from strikes by state workers because of a “no-strike provision” included in contracts negotiated last year with labor organizations representing about 120,000 employees. Those agreements are scheduled to expire next month, along with the provision prohibiting a strike, however.
Senate Republican Floor Leader James W. Nielsen of Woodland said he is sure the court’s decision will be met with bipartisan opposition in the Legislature. But if legislative action fails, he said, a ballot initiative campaign to outlaw public employee strikes would be likely.
“I think you’re going to see outrage by the public,” Nielsen said.
Keith Hearn, spokesman for the California State Employee Assn., said he too expects moves in the Legislature to try to overturn the court decision.
“My best guess is that they will try to make (public employee strikes) illegal,” Hearn said. “But whether that has much support in the Legislature or among the public remains to be seen. It hasn’t before and now that we have a Supreme Court decision saying they definitely are legal, I don’t know why that would encourage it now.
“We don’t see this (court decision) as increasing the possibility of employee strikes,” Hearn added. “We believe it will encourage management to negotiate to be more responsive at the bargaining table.”
Democratic leaders of the Legislature, while restrained in their praise of the court’s decision, strongly indicated they would attempt to block any action by Republicans to overturn the ruling.
“While I oppose strikes by public employees, I can understand why they may feel the need to strike in the absence of any other alternative mechanism,” said Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles). “The court has reasserted a fundamental constitutional guarantee about freedom of assembly and the right to withhold service.”
The Legislature in recent years has generally ignored the question of public employee strikes, relying on lower court decisions that such walkouts by government workers are illegal. Public employee work stoppages have persisted, however.
Republicans in years past had pushed unsuccessfully to include a general prohibition against public employee strikes. Such efforts were abandoned after the Legislature granted public employees and teachers the right to bargain collectively with their government employers.
Bill Miller, chief consultant for the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, noted that the Legislature made a conscious decision not to deal with the issue of public employee strikes until the courts made a final determination.
“I guess this is it,” he said. “It had generally been the attitude of most people involved that (public employees) couldn’t strike even though there was no specific statute that addressed it.”