Back to work – Justice strike settled

SAN MARTIN
– Nearly 600 striking county court workers returned to work this
morning. Meanwhile, an agreement between the workers’ union and the
county Superior Court is expected to be finalized late this
afternoon.
SAN MARTIN – Nearly 600 striking county court workers returned to work this morning. Meanwhile, an agreement between the workers’ union and the county Superior Court is expected to be finalized late this afternoon.

Wading through piles of backed up paper work and court calendars of delayed cases, hearings and trials Thursday morning, hundreds of clerks, courtroom reporters, judge’s assistants and other state-paid employees of the county court began working to unplug the justice system that has been severely disrupted since the strike began Monday.

The strike has left the San Martin courthouse with a large backlog of cases since most of the proceedings were postponed until the pay dispute was settled, even though on Tuesday a San Mateo County judge ordered 16 court reporters throughout the county to return to work to cover essential hearings until Nov. 25.

San Martin was one of the hardest hit of the county’s dozen courthouses, with more than 90 percent of its 30 state-paid employees striking – including all of its pivotal, highly-trained and virtually irreplaceable courtroom reporters. Both the Notre Dame and Santa Clara courthouses had been closed since the strike began.

This was the courts’ first courthouse strike in 27 years.

“It’s great this is getting settled,” said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Peter Waite. “If this thing was not settled, some crooks could’ve gone free.”

The 650 members of the Local 715 Service Employees International Union will meet at 5:30 p.m. to vote whether to accept the tentative agreement reached between the court and the union’s bargaining committee Wednesday night following 24 consecutive hours of court ordered negotiations.

No details of the agreement are being released.

“The bargaining committee is unanimously recommending the workers accept the proposal so it looks like a yes vote,” said Isobel White, a union spokeswoman. “This offer is significantly better than the one rejected on Oct. 28.”

Court spokeswoman Debra Hodges had no comment on the tentative agreement.

The disagreement between the union workers and the court centered largely on salary, although job flexibility and benefits were also discussed. Local 715 had asked for a 6 percent annual raise for court workers, while Superior Court officials offered only 2.5 percent in the first year of a three-year contract that would contain no raises after the first year.

Tensions began to boil when the court workers’ contract expired Oct. 28 and the 650 union members voted by a 93 percent margin to reject the courts’ new contract offer. Numerous negotiation attempts since then had failed, leading the court workers to take up the picket line Monday.

A major barrier in the contract dispute revolved around a change in law three years ago in which Superior Court employees started being funded by the state, not the county. With the dismal state of the California budget, officials already have cut Superior Court jobs in several counties, and the courts and court workers’ unions in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties recently agreed on new contracts on the eve of potential strikes.

“What I’m hearing from the workers is that they’re glad to be back at work but of course they are a bit dazed because of all the backed up work in front of them.” White said. “I don’t think there are any regrets, we had to do it to get justice.”

For information about any changes to upcoming court dates go to claraweb.co.santa-clara.ca.us/sct/. The Superior Court has also set up a hotline at 299-2555 for calendar updates, or for jury duty information call 277-0720.

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