Sacramento court workers near vote on new contract after strike

Watch court workers strike at Sacramento county courthouse

Demanding fair wages, Sacramento Superior Court workers went on strike Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, halting work at court houses across the county.
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Demanding fair wages, Sacramento Superior Court workers went on strike Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, halting work at court houses across the county.

Sacramento Superior Court employees could vote on a new three-year labor pact as early as Friday after reaching a tentative agreement with court management earlier this week, labor officials said Thursday.

The workers, represented by United Public Employees, were waiting Thursday for the court’s judges to ratify their end of the deal, said labor representative John Bonilla. He said employees will meet Thursday night to decide whether to take a contract vote.

“We want to fast-track it for a vote Friday. We’re hoping to get this wrapped up by the first of the year,” Bonilla said.

Court office technical workers — courtroom clerks, attendants and court reporters — would receive an initial 3 percent salary bump followed by a 2 percent increase in October 2019 and another 2 percent raise in October 2020, according to a mediator’s agreement outline obtained by The Bee.

Those numbers would tick up a percentage point each of those years if compensation or discretionary funds are approved in the upcoming 2019-20 budget year and allocated to Sacramento Superior Court.

Entry-level salaries for office technical unit employees range from $62,365 for deputy clerk III employees to $126,372 for court reporters, according to salary information provided by Sacramento Superior Court. Opening salaries for court attendants and account clerks hover in the mid-$70,000 range.

A larger menu of proposals was also tentatively agreed upon including four-day work weeks, education reimbursement and longevity pay among others, according to the outline.

Sacramento Superior Court Executive Officer Lloyd Connelly declined to comment on the potential vote Thursday, but court leaders earlier maintained their offer is a fair one and that anywhere from 80 to 85 percent of the trial court’s budget is dedicated to workers’ salaries and benefits.

More than 400 Superior Court office technical workers walked away from courthouses across the county Dec. 11 in a one-day work stoppage that slowed proceedings to a crawl, postponed hearings and sent jurors home for the day.

Workers took their frustration to the streets after six months of negotiations over salary increases, working conditions and other issues stalled out. They said budget cuts and staff reductions have meant remaining employees are shouldering heavier workloads and called for pay raises to keep up with cost-of-living hikes such as rising Sacramento-area rents, food and utilities.

“I’m tired of falling further and further behind,” Patricia Russell, a deputy clerk with 29 years on the job, said outside downtown Sacramento’s Gordon Schaber Courthouse during the Dec. 11 walkout. “I live within my means. I don’t spend extravagantly. Every year my SMUD (bill) goes up, my water sewer and garbage is going up ... It all adds up.”

Employees returned to work and labor representatives returned to the bargaining table the next day, ultimately brokering the tentative pact in what both sides said were “good faith negotiations.”

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Darrell Smith covers courts and California news for The Sacramento Bee. He joined The Bee in 2006 and previously worked at newspapers in Palm Springs, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Marysville. A Sacramento Valley native, Smith was born and raised at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville.