Friday, May 29, 2009
Labor Unions Stage Protest of Proposed Court Furloughs
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Over 200 California superior court employees and their supporters gathered yesterday at the San Francisco headquarters of the Administrative Offices of the Courts to protest a proposal to close courts statewide one day a month.
Debra Robeson, union steward for SEIU Local 721—representing Los Angeles Superior Court’s court reporters, court services assistants, administrative assistants, and court supervisors—and a court services assistant for the Los Angeles Superior Court told the MetNews that furloughs “should be the last solution, not the first.”
She warned that closing courts will also “stop services to the public.”
Robeson insisted “it’s crucial we don’t just let the public go,” illustrating her argument with the example of a child whose life is unnecessarily left in danger one more day because a social worker would not be able to obtain an emergency protective order on a furlough day.
She said that union officials have “been discussing alternatives,” such as cutting supplies and changing the way employees do their work, but the AOC “hasn’t been really interested.”
While the Los Angeles Superior Court has announced it will shut down nearly all of its operations and furlough its employees once per month, at least until the end of the current fiscal year, Philip Carrizosa, a spokesperson for the AOC, said statewide closures are not a certain occurrence in the future.
“We’re considering uniform public court closures, one day per month…and we are considering one furlough day per month for employees of the judicial branch,” he said, “but our main emphasis is to try to prevent the cuts to the judicial branch budget in the first place so we don’t even have to do these steps.”
Carrizosa said that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had proposed a $100 million cut to the judiciary’s budget in January, but has since upped that amount to $246 million. “We’re definitely trying to forestall that,” he said, asserting that “maybe” if the larger cut does not occur, then statewide furloughs could be avoided.
“One hundred million is a lot easier to deal with,” he said.
But Gwendolyn Jones, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 575, which represents the Los Angeles court’s clerks and paralegals, said her union was “not happy that the court is even entertaining furloughs for us.”
The union was concerned about “the public not getting the services that they need” on furlough days, Jones said, insisting that “people need justice, and they need it immediately.”
In addition, Jones objected to the union members’ loss of pay on each furlough day, estimating that such closures cost employees “around a three or three-plus percent deficit in our salary and that can add up to a lot of money for some people, especially if they’re on a budget.”
While the Los Angeles Superior Court employees are facing 12 unpaid days per year, Jones said she heard that the Santa Cruz Superior Court was considering 24 to 36 furlough days a year, which she called “unthinkable.” A representative of that court could not be reached to confirm her statement.
Jones further demanded that the AOC be “held accountable for what they’re asking us to do,” arguing that the organization needs to “provide some transparency” as to its budget and accusing it of “hoarding money.”
She called on the organization to release funds designated for the development and implementation of a statewide computerized case management system to keep the courts open “instead of trying to deal with a program that doesn’t work at this time.”
Robeson echoed this sentiment, suggesting that if the AOC spent the funds being held in reserve, then “you wouldn’t have to cut services, and there wouldn’t have to be furloughs.”
Carrizosa however, indicated that such a reallocation may not be possible without legislative approval, noting the earmarked funds were not intended for the state courts’ operating budgets.
He insisted that the AOC recognized the unions’ concerns and that “we are doing our best to provide the greatest protection for court employees while still providing services to the public.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company