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Sacramento court workers consider strike as labor talks push on

Sacramento Superior Court’s technical employees are threatening to walk off the job in December after months of contract talks without a deal.

Officials at United Public Employees Local 1, the bargaining unit that represents the court’s technical staffers, said a scheduled meeting Monday with Superior Court officials over a proposed three-year contract could be the final hope to avoid a strike.

“It’s the last chance for a deal before we hit the pavement,” Ted Somera, Local 1 executive director, said Tuesday.

Union-represented deputy clerks, court reporters, court attendants and account clerks could strike as soon as Tuesday if a deal is not reached, Somera said. The union voted Nov. 17 to authorize a strike, though that doesn’t necessarily mean a strike will happen.

The impasse between courthouse staff and the Superior Court over pay and benefits in the proposed new labor pact led both sides to agree to mediation earlier this month. Court officials and court workers last met with the mediator on Monday.

Sacramento Superior Court officials are offering a 3 percent raise each of the first two years of the pact, with a conditional 3 percent increase in the final year, depending on funding. Court technical staff are asking for a guaranteed 10 percent raise over the three-year span.

“We’ve been more than reasonable, and they’ve yet to prove they can’t afford it,” Somera said.

Meanwhile, court officials on Monday reached a tentative agreement with United Public Employees-represented professional staff. That deal includes 3 percent salary increases each of the first two years of the contract and 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.

Though it received funding increases each of the last two years, Sacramento Superior Court is reluctant to extend guarantees, asserting that its fiscal future remains unclear. Court Executive Officer Timothy Ainsworth in October called the court’s financial situation “difficult and uncertain.”

On Tuesday, Ainsworth was tight-lipped as court negotiators and union representatives moved into the third day of mediation.

“The court will continue to bargain in good faith. We will wait to let the mediation take its course,” Ainsworth said.

But Somera said court technical staff agreed to forestall pay increases during the recession and have fallen further behind when taking into account cost-of-living increases. Budget cuts and workforce reductions have since added to employees’ workload and frustration, he said.

“The work has not decreased, it’s only increased. Employees continue to bandage the court system in Sacramento. We don’t want to strike, but the courts need to recognize the sacrifices that were made,” Somera said. “We’re not trying to bankrupt the court. We’re just asking for what’s fair.”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith