Santa Clara County Court Strike|Enters Day 4 With No End in Sight

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — Court workers in Silicon Valley extended their strike into a fourth day Monday, saying they are not paid enough to live in a community with such exorbitant housing prices.
     “We’re out here for another day and we will be here for how ever long it takes,” Ingrid Stewart, president of the Superior Court Professional Employees Association, said over the phone. “We are not giving up. Our resolve is getting stronger.”
     The strike began last Wednesday, when 380 clerical and janitorial workers at the Santa Clara County Superior Court refused to show up for work. They say the concessions they gave during the Great Recession have yet to be restored and they’ve gone without a raise for 8 years, during which housing costs have risen by 26 percent.
     “A lot of our workers need to work two, even three jobs just to be able to live here,” Stewart said. “Others drive from 200 miles away just to get to work.”
     The workers are demanding that a second-year cost of living raise be built into their contract, along with the nearly 9 percent increase the court administration has already offered.
     Joseph Macaluso, spokesman for the court administration, said the court simply doesn’t have the money to meet the demand, citing the new funding-allocation formula devised by the state which diverts money away from well-heeled court systems to those with less enhanced revenue systems.
     The Santa Clara court’s revenue has also been hindered by a sharp decline in filings across all its departments, according to the court administration.
     “We are facing an estimated $5 million deficit for this fiscal year,” Macaluso said in an email.
     But Stewart said the picture painted by the administration of the deficit being beyond its control is disingenuous. Instead, the court is in arrears due to its own incompetence and mismanagement, she said, and cited the construction of the Family Court — a new $200 million courthouse built in downtown San Jose.
     The courthouse contains extravagances like Italian marble, leather couches and fancy art work.
     “It’s like the Taj Mahal,” Stewart said, adding that money would be better spent on worker’s wages, particularly the clerks who work directly with the public.
     Macaluso insists the newly minted Family Court will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and assist citizens with mental health and substance abuse issues.
     “The Family Justice Center is owned by the state of California and its funding has no direct relationship with employee wages,” Macaluso said in a statement. “We are saddened by these efforts to portray the Family Justice Center as a choice between building materials and wages, especially since the court’s last, best, final offer would give a 9.5 percent net wage increase to employees.”
     But Stewart said the court was again being misleading, saying the state could move money around the general fund to pay workers in Santa Clara but lack the political will to do so, instead choosing to improve their facilities.
     As another example of waste is the courthouse in Morgan Hill, 22 miles from downtown San Jose. It was built within the last 10 years and functions as a decorated storage house, Stewart said.
     “They are wasting money left and right,” she said. “All we want is to get back to the table.”
     The court released a statement today encouraging union representatives to enter into mediation.
     “Clearly, there is no path forward that does not include participation by a neutral third party,” the court said.
     Stewart said the workers already tried that more than a year ago, and the mediator told the union to “flex their muscle.” It’s something the workers plan to do until their demands are met, Stewart said.
     In the meantime, the strike means that most of the clerical services typically available at the downtown San Jose courthouse remain shuttered. All divisions are hearing cases on a limited basis and jury selection is continuing in most criminal cases.

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