SF Court Clerks Vote to Authorize Wage Strike

     The threat of a strike has been added to the mix in deadlocked wage talks between clerks and administrators in San Francisco Superior Court.
     A tally made Monday evening showed that two-thirds of the 251 members of local court chapter of Service Employees International Local 1021 are ready to walk out if their demand for a pay raise goes unanswered.
     Out of the 186 clerk who filled out strike ballots, 169 voted to authorize a strike.
     “It shows [the court] we are serious and it shows our clerks that we are united,” said union spokesman Steve Stallone.
     The chances of a strike are 100 percent if the court’s administrators don’t come up with an acceptable counter-offer, he said.
     Michael Yuen, the court’s head clerk, said Tuesday that the court would consider any strike illegal because the current contract between the court and the union contains a no-strike clause.
     “The Court has bargained in good faith with SEIU and all of its labor unions,” said the statement from Yuen. “The Court has met with SEIU six times since May 2014. During the most recent session on September 24, the Court made its latest offer. Court management is waiting for SEIU’s response to that offer.”
     The union’s strike vote represents unfinished business from the last labor showdown at the court.
     In July 2011, faced with statewide court budget cuts of $350 million, then-Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein announced that 200 court workers at San Francisco Superior Court would lose their jobs in a belt-tightening that would also result in closed courtrooms, reduced public access and trial delays.
     In the end, San Francisco closed 11 courtrooms, laid off 67 employees, mainly court reporters. The court also imposed work furloughs and shortened its operating hours.
     Many other counties followed a similar plan, closing courthouses and laying off staff.
     In 2012, as continued cuts shrank court budgets in California by roughly one-third, San Francisco’s clerks used a one-day walkout in a successful effort to reverse a 5% pay cut.
     The deal struck at the time provided each court worker with a $3,500 bonus plus a 3 percent pay increase.
     However, according to union officials, court administrators said then that budget uncertainties made it too risky to lock future wage increases into the agreement, which expires next summer. So the parties scheduled for further wage talks that started this summer.
     During those current talks, the clerks have made several proposals that include wage bumps of between 3 and 5 percent, but the court has rejected them all, said Diane Williams, president of the union’s San Francisco court chapter. She told a crowd of clerks at a rally last week that the court won’t budge despite more than $16 million in reserves that she says are in court coffers.
     The rally included more than 100 court workers, many with clothing in the union color of purple, who were demonstrating alongside a huge gray rat parked outside the court, with union voting tables on the sidewalk nearby.
     Immediately afterwards, the two sides sat down to further talks. But, said union spokesman Stallone, the court again refused to talk dollars and instead offered two additional floating vacation days a year.
     The vacation days were offered to combat union claims that the court’s flat-out wage hike rejections demostrate bad faith negotiating, he said. The days are unusable since clerks already have trouble using existing vacation days due to staffing shortages. What his members need is money, he said, citing recent furloughs, increased health insurance co-pays and frozen wages
     “We are losing ground in a city that’s very expensive to live in,” he said.
     But budget problems persist as the state’s courts must rely more on filing fees than ever.
     Governor Jerry Brown recently added $160 million to the previously approved $3 billion budget for trial courts for the current fiscal year, but many consider the amount grossly inadequate to operate the state’s courts in the long term.
     At a recent Judicial Council meeting with Brown’s finance director, Los Angeles Judge James Brandlin pointed to 50 new judgeships approved in 2007 by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that are still unfunded.
     Finance director Michael Cohen replied, “There’s a trade-off for everything and we do have a fixed pot. What doesn’t happen if you fund those 50 judgeships? Is it that the rest of the courts around the circle have even less funding? Is it some other program outside of the judicial branch that doesn’t get the funding?”

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