SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Court workers walked off their jobs Monday, causing confusion and delays at both the civil and criminal divisions of San Francisco’s Superior Court.
Members of Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 decided to flex their collective muscle in an effort to force the court to provide the union with budget information that could justify a recently imposed wage cut.
“We have a really strong walkout here,” union spokesman Steve Stallone said, adding that most of the local’s 225 members are participating,
Stallone also said the disruption at the court wouldn’t last long, “It’s a one-day thing. We’ll be back at work tomorrow.”
A court spokeswoman did not reply to a phone message, but she sent a press statement Monday afternoon in which Michael Yuen, the court’s top administrator, is quoted as saying, “The court is committed to assuring that all essential functions proceed in spite of this misguided action by employees who are jeopardizing access to justice for their own unjustified reasons.”
Visitors to the superior court’s Civic Center courthouse, though, were met by dozens and dozens of picketers in purple union shirts who marched and chanted at the entrance. Those who squeezed past the strikers found the clerks’ office closed and were told to leave their documents in boxes marked “small claims,” “civil,” “appeals,” and so on.
When a man seeking to file papers asked whether the clerks’ office would be open Tuesday, a court staffer pointed outside to the picketers and said, “You’ll have to ask them.”
Today’s press release says that judges who did not need a clerk proceeded to hold hearings, while the court has shifted available employees, presumably supervisors and employees not represented by Local 1021, to “serve as clerks to assure that last-day criminal and juvenile matters were able to proceed at the Hall of Justice and the Youth Guidance Center.”
In a memo to workers last month, administrator Yuen said he was being forced by reductions in trial court funding from the state to cut wages by five percent and to reduce some benefits. The mandatory changes became effective at the beginning of July.
“Over the last 3 years, we implemented ongoing operational cost-saving measures that resulted in approximately $12 million per year in savings, but those savings were not enough,” Yuen said in the memo.
Union members, though, say the wage cut cannot be imposed, but must instead be the result of informed negotiations.
Stallone said the union wants access to the court’s financial data and is entitled by labor law to see more information than the court has been willing to provide about its budget. Without the information, he said, the across-the-board wage cut is invalid.
“That is a violation of labor law to withhold financial data. It makes it impossible to negotiate around real numbers,” Stallone said, adding that the union had recently filed an unfair practice charge over the issue with the California Public Employment Relations Board.
He said information about the San Francisco Superior’s reserves has become critical to negotiations in light of recent legislation that requires trial courts to spend down their reserves.
“They are forcing us to go on strike,” said Gary Feliciano, a union steward who works in the civil division.
Speaking in front of the Civic Center Courthouse, Feliciano said, “We held off on our proposals until we could see the new data and numbers for a new contract. But they didn’t come through.”
“If they continue to impose terms, then we continue to strike,” Feliciano said, raising the possibility of a strike that lasts beyond today.
In late May the union authorized a strike with a yes vote by 95 percent of the members. Up to that point, union negotiators had met five times with court administrators, but the talks did not result in a deal to replace the labor agreement that expired in February.
In his June 4 memo, court administrator Yuen said that negotiations with Local 1021 had reached an impasse, while “the unions representing managers, court reporters, and various technical and professional classifications have agreed to and ratified the Court’s concession request.”
Yuen’s memo concluded that the cuts are necessary to “preserve access to justice to the greatest extent possible, while also saving Court employee jobs.”