What if you had not received a pay raise for 25 years? What would you do? Just ask a court reporter in California.
In the quest for pay equity, women often find themselves pitted against their bosses and male counterparts – the perception that somehow our abilities and contributions to a workforce are less valuable. However, especially in female-dominated professions, the pay gap is not always a product of pernicious employment practices. Inattention or lack of urgency could be the culprit.
In California, the court reporter profession offers long-term careers, with a workforce of nearly 90 percent women. One would think that pay equity would be a foregone conclusion. However, we are caught in a wage time machine that takes us back to 1991.
Reporters receive a traditional salary, one that covers only the 9-to-5 workday. However, most court reporters are also required to put their families and personal time aside on weeknights and weekends to produce official transcripts for the courts. This requires special equipment – paid for out of pocket by each reporter – and the expertise to convert shorthand into a full-length, verbatim record of court proceedings.
Court reporters do not receive overtime pay for producing transcripts, even if required to work into the early hours to provide an expedited transcript. Instead, they are compensated through a fee calculated by the number of words. Reporters are paid 0.85 cents for every 100 words, a rate that hasn’t changed since 1991.
So why haven’t the courts or the California Judicial Council granted an increase? Technically, they are not allowed to because the rate is in state law.
In the past 25 years, the Judicial Council has never asked the Legislature or governor to increase the rate.
The California Court Reporters Association could not wait any longer. We introduced our own legislation, Assembly Bill 2629 by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina. The Legislature passed the bill to increase the rate to 0.93 cents starting Jan. 1.
Ironically, only one group opposes our bill – the Judicial Council. In the past 25 years, it has pursued funding for countless technology projects, new courthouses, an expanded workforce, and, of course, raises for its staff. Even though we were in discussions over a transcript fee increase, it was not included on their list of budgetary priorities.
If after 25 years reporters are still not a priority, when will we be?
So AB 2629 sits on the governor’s desk awaiting his action. And hundreds of court reporters anxiously wait. As an official court reporter for Sacramento Superior Court, I know firsthand the invaluable service court reporters provide to our judicial system.
Sometimes the pay gap is not just a product of paying someone more than their co-worker. Sometimes it’s just ignoring female workers – for 25 years.
Brooke Ryan is president of the California Court Reporters Association. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.