Fresno County Superior Court workers spent a second day on strike Wednesday with no deal in sight, and the union plotting a continuous strike until it gets a new contract.
SEIU Local 521 Chapter President Denise Dedmon, also a court reporter, estimated 150 people were out striking Wednesday – court reporters, judicial assistants and courtroom clerks among other workers. They are striking due to what they call “unfair labor practices” by court management. Labor union leaders and court management have been negotiating a contract since July 18.
Among the demands, the workers are asking for an increase in work hours after losing some during previous budget challenges. The court has offered to up the work week to 37.5 hours from 35. The court also offered a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for all classifications except court reporters for an average annual pay increase of $1,698.66 per employee.
Dedmon said she’d like to see 40 hours for all workers and a fair labor contract for workers across the board, not just some. “When somebody’s paycheck is going to go backwards, that’s not fair,” she said.
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On Tuesday, the strikers marched and chanted in close proximity to the court. Wednesday’s strikers were moved farther away from the courthouse after, Dedmon said, sheriff’s deputies asked them to move to lessen their noise impact on nearby offices.
“They are trying to silence us. How fair is that?” she said.
Though, there had been an issue with the strikers’ permits from the start.
In an email to The Bee, Steven White, director of Fresno County Public Works and Planning, said the group’s permit to protest was revoked Tuesday “as a result of SEIU actions.”
Dedmon said she was told that the permit was pulled after the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office received complaints from nearby offices about the strikers being too loud. The sheriff’s office later found out the picketers had not obtained a permit 10 days in advance, as required.
The union reapplied for a permit, but it was not clear if it had gotten one on Wednesday.
Dedmon said the labor group wants to continue negotiating with the court, but communication has been one-sided. Court officials have stayed quiet during the strike. The picket line on Wednesday was in full view of the highest floor at the courthouse.
“The people that we need to convince are all on the eighth floor,” Dedmon said.
There was brief panic inside the courts on the strike’s first day Tuesday. Judges scrambled to funnel defendants and attorneys to the seventh floor to have cases heard on the record. On Wednesday, at least one department in the third floor had a court reporter available for felony cases; other departments on the third floor were still meeting after being emptied the day before, but there were no signs of a court reporter. The third floor hears felony and general cases. Some judges on Wednesday were hearing cases inside courtrooms that were not theirs and directing defendants to return for hearings in their respective departments.
Court officials have not commented on the impact to operations inside the courthouse during the strike. Dedmon said some workers agreed with the union to continue working, but it’s not clear if a plan is in place if the strike is prolonged. A note and phone call to Fresno Superior Court spokeswoman Suzanne Abi-Rached went unanswered as of Wednesday afternoon. Fresno County Chief Probation Officer Kirk Haynes only said in a statement that officials were “going to allow the process to play out.”
“We wanted to hurt the courts, but we didn’t want to shut it down,” Dedmon said. “Because that wouldn’t be fair to the community.” Some court workers inside wore purple in support of the strike.
Dedmon added that there have been some discussions about possibly stepping up the strike, but she did not elaborate on those plans. In the meantime, the strikers plan to be out until there is a deal. News of a storm forecast for Wednesday night and Thursday didn’t deter the workers from planning to walk the picket line, nor did missing pay each day they are out striking, Dedmon said.
“We are waiting and hoping that we get some kind of response from the court so that we can end it, but at this time we’re just out here until it’s over,” Dedmon said.