SF Superior Court Reduces Services During Court Workers Strike

A one-day strike being held by San Francisco Superior Court workers with Service Employees International Union Local 1021 at courthouses across the city today is slowing down the city’s justice system, court officials said.

SEIU Local 1021 workers have set up picket lines at the city’s three courthouses this morning and are alleging that court management is bargaining over their labor contracts in bad faith.

The union filed charges with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board alleging that the court has refused to bargain over mandatory issues, withheld information from the union so it can bargain properly and has threatened the jobs of union members at the bargaining table.

Michael Yuen, the court executive officer for the San Francisco Superior Court, has been bargaining with the union since March and said the alleged unfair labor practices charge is “bogus.”

Yuen said that the court is in the process of seeking an injunction to end the strike and also plans to file their own charge with the Public Employment Relations Board over today’s demonstrations, which he said are unlawful.

Court officials said they believe the strike breaks the current contract with SEIU Local 1021, which took effect Dec. 5, 2012, and expires on June 30, 2015, because it contains a no-strike provision.

Yuen said around 250 of the city’s 438 court employees honored the picket line today and did not show up for work, but the court was able to remain open, albeit in a limited capacity.

He said more than half of all courtrooms at the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. and just under half of all courtrooms at the Civic Center Courthouse at 400 McAllister St. remained open today, but that all trials are being held over until Wednesday. He said the Juvenile Justice Center at 375 Woodside Ave. is also operating, but with limited service.

Court officials said the strike is causing delays in civil, criminal and family law cases.

“We face the risk of having to dismiss cases,” Yuen said.

Yuen said the city and state “deserve better than a group of rogue, unionized employees that breaks a promise to serve the public.”

According to Yuen, the court’s $16 million reserve spending plan is earmarked to provide “service to the public rather than higher wages for the highest-paid court employees in the state of California, if not the country.”

The funding plan largely allocates funds toward retiree health, budget balancing and facility projects, Yuen said.

Under its current contract, SEIU members received a one-time $3,500 payment, followed in July 2013 by a 3 percent cost of living increase, court officials said.

SEIU Local 1021 organizer Steve Stallone said union members voted late last month in favor of authorizing a strike.

Stallone said the court workers are asking for 3 to 3.5 percent wage increases, but that court management has offered no proposed wage increases in response.

Michael Diles, a court reporter who was picketing outside the Civic Center Courthouse this afternoon, said he was disappointed that management didn’t allocate any of the reserve funds for court workers.

Diles, a San Francisco resident who has been working at the courthouse for nine years, said that while San Francisco court workers are paid well in comparison to other counties in California, San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the country.

He said court workers’ current wages are hardly enough to scrape by on in San Francisco. He said most of his co-workers moved out of the city long ago.

To help keep the judicial process moving smoothly today, the court has placed drop boxes in clerks’ offices for filings that will be stamped with today’s date, despite the work stoppage.

Yuen said San Francisco courthouses are not the only ones in California with a lack of local reserve funds on hand, saying it’s a statewide funding issue.

“Courts are shuttering services and putting access to justice at risk,” Yuen said.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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