(CN) – San Francisco Superior Court workers picketed at the Civic Center Courthouse on Tuesday as union members held a vote on whether to walk off their jobs if talks with court managers don’t bring a pay raise.
The scene outside the main entrance to the civil courthouse across from City Hall was celebratory and confrontational, with a large gray rat on display and union leaders exhorting the crowd of workers. During the course of labor negotiations, the court workers have often donned purple clothing on Wednesdays to show support for the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 which has a purple logo.
Signalling a high level of commitment to his cause, one court worker picketing on Wednesday wore a purple bow tie with a purple shirt. A bus had brought additional demonstrators from the criminal courthouse.
“I don’t like getting disrespected,” union chapter president Diane Williams said over a loudspeaker. “We want the money!”
Court spokeswoman Ann Donlan said it would not be appropriate for her to discuss labor issues with the media while negotiations between court and union representatives are under way.
In addition to picketing, the court workers were also filling out ballots at tables set up on the sidewalk, deciding whether to walk off the job if they do not win a raise.
The clerks, who marched during their lunch breaks, were pressing for a raise just two years after a long and largely successful battle in 2012 to reverse a 5% pay cut that came along with draconian cuts to the statewide court budget. That 2012 showdown included a brief strike, before the two sides came to agreement.
The 2012 deal, which expires next summer, provided each court worker with a $3,500 bonus plus a 3 percent pay increase and an opening for further wage talks.
Those talks started in April. But, said SEIU members, the negotiations are going in the wrong direction.
The union through its flyers and through comments from union leaders accused the court of negotiating in “bad faith” by refusing any wage increase despite having what the union says is more than $16 million in reserves.
“Since April, we’ve been back to the table about five times,” said Williams, president of the union’s San Francisco court chapter.
She said the clerks first asked for a 5 percent increase, which the court rejected. The union returned with a proposed 3 percent bump effective this past July, or a 3-1/2 percent increase that would happen in January 2015.
Williams said they have not heard back from the court administrators, but she hoped they might have a reply this afternoon, when a union bargaining team was scheduled to meet with the court’s team.
“Every time we’ve made a proposal, they have countered with zero,” said Williams, who works in the court’s traffic division.
Once the picketers were joined by a contingent of clerks from the criminal and traffic courts, who came by bus from the court’s Hall of Justice, Williams addressed the combined crowd, which numbered more than 100.
She said the clerks deserve better and that the cost of living in San Francisco made the issue one of fairness.
A union handout says the last pay negotiation taught the clerks that a strike is the only way to get the court to budge, and the clerks say they are due after years of “stagnant wages, layoffs, furloughs, rising health care co-pays and short staffing.”
The vote will take place over the next few days, with the results tallied by early next week.
Gary Feliciano, a clerk who is the union’s chief shop steward, said he thinks clerks will authorize a strike: “Most people are on board. They feel like they earned a fair opportunity for a raise, considering the money the court has.”
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