Santa Clara court workers continue strike

A strike by a union representing more than 300 Santa Clara County Superior Court employees demanding pay raises they say are long overdue will continue Thursday.

The Santa Clara County Superior Court Professional Employees Association will pick up their strike at 7:30 a.m. Thursday outside the Hall of Justice in San Jose, union officials said.

There were 310 union members who showed up for today’s action at 7 a.m. today outside the court on West Hedding Street after failing to reach a labor contract with the court, union president Ingrid Stewart said.

The court hasn’t agreed to the union’s request for a pay raise in the second year of its two-year contract, Stewart said.

“I’ve been here for 36 years and I would have to say this is one of the lowest periods I’ve ever had with the court,” said Stewart, who currently works as a courtroom clerk for the civil division at Downtown Superior Court.

The union was formed at the beginning of this year after it split from Services Employees International Union Local 521 representing about 380 workers including courtroom clerks, mediators and janitors, Stewart said.

The court has offered its “last, best and final offer” of a 5 percent raise when the contract is ratified and another 5 percent raise six months later, court spokesman Joe Macaluso said.

The court has given the union three proposals to continue negotiations through mediation, Macaluso said.

The strike has resulted in a slowdown at the county’s 11 court facilities, where the largest impact is at each clerk’s office that is either closed or providing limited services, he said.

“At this point we have deployed all our staff to where they need to be,” Macaluso said.

The union agreed with the court to provide five employees to perform “essential functions” that vary from courtroom clerks to information specialists, he said.

Some people summoned for jury duty have been dismissed, while others are under review to serve on a panel, Macaluso said.

The public should continue to check whether or not they have to report for jury duty through the instruction provided on their summons, he said.

Hearings are going on as scheduled, but a majority of cases are being continued to a later date, according to Macaluso.

The scaled-back operation will continue Thursday and for as long as the strike lasts, Macaluso said.

Union members were outside the court this morning walking in a circle that extended to the sidewalk while chanting phrases such as “No justice, no peace,” and cheered when passing cars honked in support. A few of them were also beating drums and ringing bells.

Many of the members held signs, some of which read, “Respect starts with our contract,” and “No employees, no public service.” Stewart criticized the court for not giving union members a pay increase despite spending more than $200 million on a new Family Justice Center Courthouse in downtown san Jose.

“We need to keep getting raises to keep up with the pace of the economy,” she said.

In the past eight years, the workers have negotiated three prior contracts without a pay raise, union member Anna Sapp said.

Sapp, a drug court coordinator, is an 18-year employee who plans to eventually retire with her job, but said she may be forced to find another position elsewhere if she doesn’t see her wages go up.

Sapp rents a three-bedroom home in Milpitas where she keeps her two teenage children and grandson in one room and subleases two of the rooms while she lives in the garage.

Sapp wants to stay in Santa Clara County for her job and children’s education, but said if she doesn’t see a raise, she may be pushed out of the county.

Multiple lawn chairs were spread out on the grass along with tents and tables filled with baked goods and other refreshments for the union members.

Many of the items were donated from labor unions supportive of the strike, including the Santa Clara Government Attorneys’ Association, which represents lawyers with the county’s district attorney’s and public defender’s offices, and the San Jose Police Officers’ Association.

SJPOA President Paul Kelly, who dropped off cases of water bottles for the picketers, said he recognized the public impact the strike would have on law enforcement. Clerks help process search warrants that need to be signed by a judge before they can be served, Kelly said.

He called on the public to look at the “big picture” and recognize the difficulties the court workers’ union has been facing.