Santa Clara court workers plan Wednesday strike

Santa Clara County Superior Court will have limited operations Wednesday as a union representing nearly 400 employees plans to strike after failed labor contract negotiations.

The Santa Clara County Superior Court Professional Employees Association representing more than 380 workers plan to picket outside the Hall of Justice in San Jose beginning 7 a.m. Wednesday, union officials said.

The union has been negotiating a two-year contract with the court for the past two years and eight months. The members disagree with the court not offering a raise in the second year, union president Ingrid Steward said.

The court has offered a 5 percent raise for the union after the contract is ratified and another 5 percent raise six months later, court spokesman Joe Macaluso said.

The court has presented two increases and the union has asked for three, according to Macaluso.

The union had 600 members when it received its last pay raise eight years ago, but since then they’ve seen many workers quit due to the low pay or find jobs at other courts, Steward said.

The union was formed in January after they broke away from Services Employees International Union last year, Macaluso said:

“All the things we did with SEIU don’t count with this group because this wasn’t them.”

The court sent the union its “last, best and final offer” on June 9 and both sides haven’t returned to the negotiating table since July 25, Steward said.

Macaluso said:

“We value our employees and hoping we can come to a mutual agreement.”

The final offer is the highest amount the court can offer as it faces a $5 million budget deficit, he said.

The court has offered to continue negotiations through a mediator, but the union has declined, Macaluso said.

The union’s membership includes court clerks who help cases move forward by processing documents, legal process clerks who advise people when they need to appear for hearings, mediators and janitors, Steward said.

Court authorities claim they don’t have enough money to give the union’s members a pay bump, but have given raises to many high-level employees and built a new Family Justice Center Courthouse, Steward said.

The new facility in downtown San Jose is scheduled to open on Aug. 15, court officials said.

The employees have struggled to get by with their current pay that isn’t enough to keep up with the steep costs to live in Silicon Valley, Steward said.

Some workers have lost their homes, been forced to couch surf and juggle two or three jobs, she said:

“Being a civil servant, my main concern has been for the underdog and the public, making sure they’re represented and have rights. … We’ve been put in this position by the court by their inflexibility to be reasonable with some of our demands.”

The court is funded through the state and not through the county, union spokesman Tom Saggau said.

On Monday morning, about 140 union members showed up to Hayes Mansion in South San Jose where California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye was speaking at a judicial conference, Saggau said.

The union planned to deliver a letter to Cantil-Sakauye, who they hoped would intervene in the conflict and help steer both sides to a resolution, but she didn’t address the workers, according to Saggau.

The court is scaling back on operations in preparation for the strike, Macaluso said.

The court will do it best to make sure hearings take place for in-custody arraignments, juvenile detentions and criminal trials that haven’t waived time, according to Macaluso.

People with hearings scheduled Wednesday are advised to show up, but they may be asked to return at a later date if there’s a decrease in available staff.

Those scheduled for jury duty have been asked to continue checking whether or not they need to report through the instructions provided in their summons, court officials said.

The public is also advised to expect longer wait times for copies of records or files, court officials said.

There will be limited services at the Clerk’s Office at the Hall of Justice, Downtown Superior Court, Terraine Courthouse, Juvenile Justice Courthouse and Family Courthouse at Park Center Plaza in San Jose in addition to the Santa Clara Courthouse.

The Clerk’s Office will be closed at the South County Courthouse in Morgan Hill, Palo Alto Courthouse, Sunnyvale Courthouse and Notre Dame Courthouse in San Jose, where the Self Help Center will also be closed as normal on Wednesdays.