Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Lawyers Call TRO Blocking Them From Joining Strike Unprecedented
From Staff And Wire Service Reports
A Santa Cruz Superior Court judge’s ruling that government lawyers are “essential” workers and who may not join a court employee strike is unprecedented, the leader of a bargaining group for Bay Area prosecutors, public defenders and family support attorneys said yesterday.
Judge Samuel Stevens issued a temporary restraining order late Monday blocking members of the Santa Clara County Government Attorneys Association from stopping work to join a strike at the Santa Clara Superior Court. The judge ruled that curtailing the government attorneys’ work would constitute an imminent harm to public health and safety.
“It’s the first time that I’m aware of in California that an employer asked for and a court blessed...an order that equated the jobs that government attorneys do to other essential public services such as police and fire,” association president and Deputy Santa Clara District Attorney Jim Shore said.
“It changes the nature of the types of negotiations that they can have with their employers,” Shore said. “This changes the landscape, not only for our attorneys, but for DAs and public defenders throughout the state.”
He added that while the decision underscores the importance of government attorneys’ work, it could also put judges in an uncomfortable position.
“We now have a situation in which the courts are the employer,” he said. “It puts judges in a difficult position where they have to make labor decisions.”
About 600 of 650 court employees—-including court reporters, research attorneys, courtroom clerks, legal clerks, mediators and investigators, among others—refused to work Monday and yesterday after salary negotiations broke down Friday night.
The workers are members of Service Employees International Union, Local 715.
After the union challenged Stevens for cause, San Mateo Superior Court Judge Joseph Bergeron yesterday ordered 13 court reporters back to work so that time-sensitive cases can go forward.
The strikers, who are state employees, are asking for a six percent annual pay raise, something the court contends it can’t afford because of restrictions forced upon it by the state’s budget crunch. The court has offered a two and a half percent raise for the first year of a three-year contract, and no raises for the next two years. Negotiations on the subject broke down on Friday night for the second time since they started Oct. 30.
SEIU spokeswoman Isobel White said workers at San Mateo Superior Court, which is also represented by SEIU Local 715, have just signed a contract giving them a 14 percent pay raise over four years.
Shore added that the Santa Clara court’s executive director, Kiri Torres, had received a seven and a half percent pay increase this year, and that the court was spending $4 million on new furniture.
White said the union members expect to continue striking until they see some change from management. Court spokeswoman Deborah Hodges was not available for comment yesterday, and Bergeron has issued a gag order with regards to his decisions.
Shore emphasized that the government attorneys he represents did not want to shut down the cases they’re working on, but many felt sympathy for the court employees they work with every day.
“Our attorneys spend the majority if not all of their time in the courtroom,” he said. “They’re our colleagues, for the most part. We just hope that it ends soon, that it ends amicably and that the courts and public sector attorneys can get on with the work at hand.”
The strike has largely shut down the county’s court system. A recording at the main courthouse said the Santa Clara and Notre Dame courthouses were closed yesterday; other branch courthouses were open for filings only. California Supreme Court Justice Ronald George has ordered emergency time extensions for many of the cases, said Karen Sinunu, an assistant district attorney in Santa Clara County.
White said some county employees, who are not part of the union, have also refused to work at the courts out of sympathy, as have letter carriers, social workers and janitors.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company