CA’s Santa Clara County Moves to Halt Employee Strike on Election Day

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California’s Santa Clara County (San Jose) is asking a court to block election workers from striking as part of an announced job action scheduled for this Friday – four days before the state’s March 3 primary. Courthouse News has more:

Days before California voters head to the polls on Super Tuesday, officials in Santa Clara County sued an employee union to block its members – 1,700 of which work at the county registrar of voters office – from going on strike.

The Service Employees International Union, Local 521 represents approximately 12,000 county workers. The union has been without a contract since June 2019 according to the complaint filed by Santa Clara County officials on Wednesday.

County officials say they were notified that SEIU Local 521 could start their strike by this Friday and “if allowed to occur and continue, will result in the inability of approximately 1.2 million registered county voters to vote in the March 3, 2020, presidential primary election.”

California voters head to the polls on Super Tuesday, just four days after the start of the strike.

The county seeks to prevent election workers from striking because of their key role in the voting process:

County Counsel James Williams seeks a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction “enjoining and restraining” union members and representatives from going on strike because they perform essential public services related to the election.

The 5-page complaint asks the court to block union members from “intimidating, threatening, molesting, coercing or otherwise hindering or discouraging any employee” in positions identified by county elections chief Shannon Bushey.

The strike comes at a difficult time for the county election office, with additional polling locations opening this weekend:

In an interview, Williams said there are currently 22 voting centers open in Santa Clara County where voters can cast their ballots in early voting. That number will expand to 114 voter centers by this weekend.

Approximately 1,500 temporary workers make up the bulk of the employees represented by SEIU Local 521 and who are working for the registrar of voters office. They staff voting centers and have been trained to work those sites.

“Voting is literally happening,” says Williams. “There is no alternative.”

It appears that SEIU will defer to the court on election workers but intends to go forward otherwise:

The union said it will respect the court’s decision but the strike is still on for Friday.

“We believe that this entire situation can be resolved if the county simply respects the legal rights of its employees and bargains in good faith and on that basis our attorneys have opposed the county’s motion,” Daisie Tran with SEIU 521 said in a statement. “If the court restricts registrar workers from striking, it does not impact the rest of our 12,000 co-workers across the county from moving forward with the unfair labor practice strike that the county itself has precipitated by engaging in illegal bargaining practices – including the elimination of already proposed raises.”

Obviously, a strike involving election workers would be extremely difficult for the the election office; here’s hoping the County and its employees can work out their differences in advance of the election – and if not, that any court order allows voting to proceed without affecting negotiations, or vice versa. Stay tuned …

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