Thursday, August 26, 2004
Court Clerks Picket Over Contract Impasse, Say Strike Possible
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court clerks picketed during their lunch break at courthouses around the county yesterday to call attention to a labor dispute in which the court declared an impasse earlier this month.
More than 30 clerks and their supporters carried signs reading “Lose John Clarke Not my vacation,” “Your IMPASSE NOT Ours!!!” and “JUST PRACTICING” for about an hour outside the downtown Stanley Mosk Courthouse. About 20 picketed at the Compton courthouse, and a spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the clerks, said as many as 150 others picketed at eight other court locations.
Clarke is the Superior Court’s executive officer/clerk.
The picketers wore yellow buttons with “1997” printed on them in large type, and AFSCME District 36 spokesman Damian Tryon said that was a reference to the year in which employees last went on strike.
“This union does know how to and can go on strike,” Tryon told reporters.
He said the other courthouses picketed were the downtown Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, the Metropolitan Court, and courthouses in Lancaster, Long Beach, Pomona, San Fernando, Torrance, and Van Nuys. Carole Prescott, the president of the clerks’ AFSCME Local 575, said the Pomona and Lancaster picketing took place in the morning before work.
Tryon and Prescott said the picketing was intended to be informational, and a court spokesman said no court business was interrupted.
Tryon said two other AFSCME locals representing other court employees, as well as three Service Employees International Union locals, have already reached contract agreements. Prescott said the court declared Aug. 6 that negotiations with the clerks had reached an impasse.
A mediation session is scheduled for Sept. 8, she said.
Prescott said the clerks’ local has about 430 members and represents about 800 clerks, who work in courtrooms assisting judges and subordinate judicial officers. She said the court employs over 5,000 unionized workers.
The clerks’ contract expired March 31, but until the impasse was declared the union had extended it “on a week-to-week basis while in negotiations,” Prescott explained.
“We didn’t really feel that we were at impasse,” the local president declared, adding she hoped the picketing would “embarrass the court back to the table.”
Negotiations are stalled over “three issues that are real stickers,” Prescott said: salary, vacation scheduling and bonuses.
The clerks are willing to settle for the raises given to other union locals, Prescott explained, consisting of no salary boost for the current fiscal year and 2.5 percent for each of the next two years. But they want a “me too” clause which would guarantee they receive treatment no less favorable than other unionized workers, she said.
Prescott noted that the AFSCME local representing the court’s law clerks and research attorneys also has yet to reach a contract agreement.
The vacation issue involves whether scheduling is done on a building-by-building basis or by “operational division,” Prescott said. The clerks want to retain the building-based method described in the most recent contract, but the court wants to change it, she said.
“That would just make a big mess and make it much more difficult to get vacation time,” Prescott asserted.
The expired contract called for a system of bonuses under which an annually increasing percentage of clerks would qualify, Prescott said. A committee was to formulate criteria for earning the bonuses, with half of the clerks qualifying during the contract’s final year.
But the court “never allowed” the percentage to climb to the maximum level, Prescott said. She explained that the bonus of 5.5 percent is earned for doing training and specialized extra work.
The union has asked that the bonuses be implemented this year at the 50 percent level under the new contract and that they climb to 70 percent next year, Prescott said.
Superior Court spokesperson Allan Parachini said the impasse was declared only after protracted talks were unproductive.
“The court engaged in more than 20 bargaining sessions with them and no agreement had been forthcoming,” Parachini said. The court is offering the clerks “essentially the same terms as what the other bargaining units have agreed to,” he added.
He said the clerks want a two-year, rather than a three-year, contract.
The court is unwilling to increase the number of clerks qualifying for bonuses because it does not need a greater quantity of the additional services involved, Parachini asserted. As for the vacation issue, he said the court is “only trying to essentially codify” an existing practice affecting several juvenile court facilities at which the services of clerks with specialized skills and experience are required.
“We have to be sure that vacation time is coordinated,” Parachini said.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company