SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Court workers Thursday gave the green light for a strike if negotiations between their union and administrators remain deadlocked.
The results of a secret ballot, which were announced at a union rally in front of San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, showed a full 95 percent of members want union leaders to return to talks with more leverage than they had in previous sessions.
Negotiators from the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, have met five times with court administrators, but the talks have not resulted in a deal to replace the labor agreement that expired in February.
The union says it needs the authorization to show that its members refuse to accept what it describes as an imposition of concessions, including a permanent 5 percent pay cut and no guarantees against future layoffs.
In a statement released after the vote became public, the court criticized the strike vote and said it flew in the face of a statewide judicial budget crisis. Fiscal prudence is required, said the court’s negotiator, to avoid further layoffs and cutbacks in services to the public.
Union officials in turn criticized what they said was the rigid stance taken by the court.
“Across the board, management has turned down every offer we’ve had,” union chapter president Geraldine Anderson told Courthouse News.
Anderson, who works in the court’s civil division, said she and her colleagues go to work every day to help the public, and they don’t want to strike. “We’re ready to go back to the table,” she said.
Diane Williams, a traffic court worker, called the vote “overwhelming.” She said court staff is already stretched thin, and the public feels that impact.
“I sympathize that people have to wait two or three hours in line,” Williams said. “We’re understaffed as it is and lines will get longer.”
Many union members said that the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) should loosen its purse strings for trial court operations now that the heavily criticized Computerized Case Management System is dead. California’s Judicial Council scuttled the statewide computer system project in March after 10 years and $500 million.
On the steps of the Hall of Justice, Gary Feliciano, a union steward who works in the civil division, said, “This isn’t just about contracts.”
“They deny us, they deny justice to the public,” he said of the AOC.
Last summer, Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein announced that 200 court workers would lose their jobs in a belt-tightening that would also result in closed courtrooms, reduced public access and delays in justice across the system. In the end, 67 employees were let go, mainly court reporters.
Once the results of the strike authorization vote became public on Thursday, the court released its statement criticizing the strike vote.
Court spokeswoman Ann Donlan said the crisis worsened further with recent news that Gov. Jerry Brown plans to cut another $544 million from the judiciary’s budget.
The statement quotes the court’s lead negotiator J.M. Munoz as saying: “The court had a three-year plan to survive the next three fiscal years, which unfortunately required a staff layoff last fall and wage concessions effective July 1 to achieve our goals. The layoffs of 67 employees and the 5 percent wage concession together were enough to help the court avoid additional service reductions to the public and more staff layoffs.”
Munoz purportedly said that a strike “would cause widespread disruptions to access to justice in San Francisco.”
Echoing the union members’ concerns for the public, however, Munoz said that “the court is prepared to assure that essential services proceed regardless of a strike, including criminal, unlawful detainer, civil harassment and juvenile delinquency cases, as well as any other services that must be performed to prevent an imminent threat to the health or safety of the public.”
No talks are scheduled, but many union members said they are ready to resume negotiating.