Sacramento court workers reject labor pact; strike looms

Sacramento Superior Court’s office technical employees overwhelmingly rejected a proposed three-year contract, union officials said Friday, setting the stage for a strike as early as Monday at the county’s four courthouses.

Officials declined to provide a breakdown of Friday’s vote tally, which came after months of negotiations over a new labor pact.

“We didn’t want to strike. We asked (the court) to invest in their employees,” said Ted Somera, executive director of United Public Employees Local 1, which represents the court reporters, deputy clerks, account clerks and court attendants who make up much of Superior Court’s rank and file. Somera said he will meet with union representatives over the weekend to determine a strike date.

For months, the bargaining group and Sacramento Superior Court have wrangled over a proposed three-year contract.

Superior Court officials initially offered salary raises of 3 percent each of the first two years of the deal, with a conditional 3 percent increase in the final year depending on funding. Court technical staff asked for a guaranteed 10 percent raise over the life of the three-year pact.

A mediator brought in to work with both sides in November offered a plan for a 3 percent raise after the contract is ratified, a second 3 percent bump in October 2016 and a 2 to 3 percent increase in October 2017. If the court receives at least a 4 percent increase in new baseline funding for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, employees would get a 3 percent salary increase. Employees with more than 20 years of service would also get longevity pay under the mediator’s proposal.

That plan was the proposal cast aside Friday by court workers and could mean the county’s courts could come to a standstill. The office technical unit is Superior Court’s largest at more than 450 employees, Somera said.

Strong turnout was reported Friday at the Gordon Schaber Courthouse in downtown Sacramento, where a scan of voter rolls showed nearly all of the more than 200 office technical employees represented by United Public Employees Local 1 cast ballots. The numbers represent roughly half of represented court technical staff working at Sacramento County’s four courthouses. Polls closed at 3:30 p.m.

Sacramento Superior Court Executive Officer Timothy Ainsworth said Friday that contingencies are in place in the event of a work stoppage, adding that the court “will do its very best to keep operations up and running.”

“They voted. We’ll see where we go from here. Two other unions accepted essentially the same terms,” Ainsworth said.

Court officials in November reached a tentative agreement with United Public Employees-represented professional staff. The contract includes 3 percent salary increases each of the first two years of the deal along with longevity pay for workers with more than 20 years of court service, according to information on the union’s website.

In October, Teamsters-represented supervisors agreed to a three-year contract that provides a 3 percent pay increase in each of the first two years and a conditional 3 percent raise in the third contract year dependent on funding.

Both sides have claimed financial hardship. Superior Court officials say funding and the court’s fiscal future remain uncertain. Court workers say cost-of-living increases have only added to the pain they have felt since agreeing to pay freezes during the recession.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith