A one-day strike by nearly 200 San Francisco Superior Court clerks closed some courtrooms and all clerks’ offices Monday, but administrators said they kept essential functions going by reassigning other, nonstriking workers.
“I’m not saying that justice is at a platinum level, but justice is continuing,” said Court Executive Officer Michael Yuen.
“The court is doing everything it can to make sure justice will be accessible and is working in San Francisco,” he said.
The strike by members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 was to protest a 5 percent pay cut imposed by the court at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
The cut was made necessary by ongoing court budget reductions made during the state’s fiscal crisis, Yuen said.
The local represents clerks who work in courtrooms, stand behind public counters and maintain court files.
Three other unions, representing about 180 managers, supervisors and court reporters, previously accepted the 5 percent cut.
Local 1021 contends the San Francisco court management didn’t provide the financial information required by federal labor law to show the need for the cuts.
“We’re doing this because the Superior Court is not being transparent about the financial data we’re entitled to by law,” said Gary Feliciano, a deputy clerk and shop steward who was among about 80 workers marching with picket signs outside the Civic Center Courthouse.
Felciano said that despite any inconvenience to the public today, “The public has been inconvenienced for the last three years. The public has lost services, services and services.
“We’re the last stand for the public,” he said.
Yuen, speaking at a news conference inside the courthouse, said the strike forced the court to close more than one-third of its courtrooms and all of its clerk’s offices, including the windows where people pay or contest traffic tickets.
But he said that by reassigning nonstriking workers, the court was able to carry out critical functions, including “last day” criminal matters in which today was the legal deadline for beginning a preliminary hearing or trial.
Also kept in place were hearings on unlawful detainers, civil harassment and juvenile delinquency cases, he said.
But three out of 12 ongoing criminal trials at the Hall of Justice were halted for the day, according to court spokesman Ann Donlan. Jurors were told to go home and return tomorrow.
Yuen said the closed courtrooms included three out of the 20 used for criminal cases at the Hall of Justice and 15 out of 29 designated for civil cases at the Civic Center Courthouse.
The two juvenile courtrooms at Hall of Justice remained in operation.
Although clerk’s offices were closed, drop boxes were available for court filings, he said.
Yuen said the court management imposed the new contract with the pay cut on July 1 under the terms of a state law that allows such actions after negotiations and mediation have failed.
Negotiations reached an impasse in March and mediation in April was unsuccessful, he said. SEIU members authorized a strike in a vote in May, but did not announce today’s action in advance.
Local 1021 spokesman Steve Stallone said the San Francisco court clerk’s unit has about 240 members. He said that some are on vacation, but estimated that more than 90 percent of the others, or a total of nearly 200, walked out today.
Strikers marched outside the Hall of Justice and the Youth Guidance Center as well as the Civic Center Courthouse.
Yuen disputed the union’s claim that the court didn’t provide financial information.
The court’s final budget for the current 2012-13 fiscal year won’t be known until a meeting of the state Judicial Council on July 27, but “I can’t show information I don’t have,” Yuen said.
The San Francisco court’s annual funding has fallen from $100 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year to $80 million in the just completed 2011-12 fiscal year, he said.
Donlan said the court is expecting further reductions for 2012-13.
She said the court has 591 authorized staff positions but as a result of attrition and 67 layoffs last year now has 418 nonjudicial employees.
The court has 49 judges, she said.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News