Monday, April 7, 2003
Court Approves Furlough Plan, Workers Express Unhappiness
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The Los Angeles Superior Court Executive Committee Friday approved a plan to furlough employees on eight days between now and the end of the fiscal year in June, Presiding Judge Robert Dukes said.
That action came shortly after the windup of a noon hour meeting in which members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—which represents many of the court’s workers—expressed displeasure at the turn of events.
The furlough plan was recommended by the court’s Personnel and Budget Committee earlier last week as a last-resort measure if employees will not accept the court’s alternative offer—that employees convert paid days into additional vacation time for next year.
The action is necessary because the court, which was already facing a shortfall and has already laid off more than 100 employees in the current fiscal year, has to cut $6.7 million from its budget as part of a statewide court budget reduction ordered last month by Gov. Gray Davis.
Attendees at Friday’s meeting made clear where they stood by wearing the union’s bright green “I Don’t Work for Free, Do You?” buttons. None of the 200 or more employees who attended the meeting voiced disagreement when AFSCME representative Damian Tryon called the vacation plan a “farce.”
Dukes called the situation “so unfortunate.”
He told the MetNews:
“My entire view has been that these aren’t employees, these are family. I certainly appreciate their position.”
Under the plan approved by the Executive Committee, all non-managerial employees—except for a few who would work in order to handle emergency situations, such as last-day criminal cases—will be furloughed on April 17 and 23. The remaining six furlough days will be in May and June and will be selected later.
Judges are expected to show up for work, and barring a change by tomorrow, the court apparently intends to conduct judicial proceedings. But it was unclear how this could be done without clerks and court reporters, and it was suggested at Friday’s employee meeting that conducting a proceeding without a clerk present would be illegal.
Some employees at the Friday afternoon meeting suggested that the selection of midweek days for furloughs—thus denying workers the benefit of a three-day weekend—was a hardball tactic designed to pressure the unions into accepting the vacation plan. Some urged that members respond by conducting some form of “job action” the day after a furlough day, a tactic one union leader said was under consideration.
Dukes, however, said he was open to scheduling the remaining furlough days for Fridays. Mondays are out of the question, however, because of the accumulation of last-day criminal cases, Dukes said.
By law, if the speedy-trial period ends on a Saturday or Sunday, the deadline moves to the next court day, so Mondays have approximately three times as many last-day cases as any other day, the presiding judge explained.
Tryon gave the Friday furlough idea a lukewarm response.
“It takes a little bitterness out of the wound, but it doesn’t make [the employees] any more able to pay their bills,” he said the MetNews.
Dukes said he expected the court’s managers to meet and confer with union leaders later in the day Friday. But Tryon said he was called and asked only about a possible conference call, which he refused to be part of.
“A conference call is not a negotiation,” he said, “and I wasn’t going to be suckered.”
Tryon said he will wait until tomorrow, when the court has its usual weekly labor meeting, to discuss the matter with management. Dukes said tomorrow is the last day that the court could logistically avert going ahead with the furloughs.
Tryon said the court should consider other possibilities, like cutting its technology spending. The Judicial Council, he noted, voted in February to allow courts to divert moneys allocated through the Trial Courts Improvement Fund to filling budget gaps.
Court officials, Tryon told his members Friday, made “a deliberate choice to put this computer crap ahead of your salaries.”
The court has defended its computer purchases as routine and necessary. And as for the TCIF, Dukes noted the court has already tapped it for more than $1 million.
Another possibility raised by the union is seeking legislative approval to divert funds otherwise earmarked for construction. Dukes said he had little ability to influence the Legislature but “would welcome any solution that is proposed.”
Tryon also told the members the union may file suit next week to block the furloughs as lacking a “legitimate business purpose.”
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company