Hundreds of Superior Court workers in San José, Calif., returned to work Aug. 15 with their heads held high. After an unprecedented eight-day strike, the court workers faced a backlog of work and loss of more than a week’s pay but came back to their jobs with enhanced self-confidence and organization after forcing concessions on wages the court administration had previously refused to grant.

More than 300 court employees walked out Aug. 3 as the Superior Court Professional Employees Association sought pay increases for workers who had not seen a raise in eight years. SCPEA members voted Aug. 14 to approve the administration’s most recent offer, which included a wage hike near what the association had demanded.

The walkout had brought normal operations at 11 courthouses to a near standstill, with all but essential hearings postponed. (For background to the strike, see my previous article.)

Agreement reached

The announcement that a tentative deal had been reached came after both sides met Aug. 11 with a mediator, who failed to settle the dispute. An agreement was reached, however, after “back-channel” negotiations involving a group of judges that continued through the night and into the early morning hours the following day.

According to the San José Mercury News, the agreement includes the following provisions:

“First, the court agreed to pay most of the previously negotiated raises immediately, with the rest by November. That effectively puts an extra half percent in workers’ pockets.

“Second, the court will give workers 2.5 percent extra in the second year if the state Legislature and the governor approve a cost-of-living increase by June 30, 2017, as expected.

“If the state doesn’t approve the increase, the tentative agreement includes a backup plan. Under a new ‘me-too’ clause, the court would have to match any increase given to its other employee unions, which will start negotiations for new contracts before the clerks’ agreement expires. Also, the court agreed to shorten the Superior Court Professional Employees Association’s contract from two years to 18 months, allowing workers to go back to the table sooner.

“Even though the 3 percent wage hike is not guaranteed, union leaders said the strike had a positive result: the court now has more respect for the crucial role workers play in keeping the legal system working despite budget cuts that have reduced staff by more than a third.”

Sonia Larios, who has worked for the court for 15 years, told the Mercury News that she’s ready to get back on the job.

She said going eight days without a paycheck while on strike has “not been any worse than it has the past eight years” with no pay increases.

Larios lives in a two-bedroom apartment in San Jose with her three children and her father. She said her rent goes up about $100 per month every year. With no pay raise in eight years, it is impossible to pay for extras for her kids, such as sports programs and other after-school activities, she said.

“That money has to come from somewhere, so it comes from my children,” Larios said. “One week has not been much compared to eight years of suffering.”

A strike leader, Shelly Carey, told Liberation News of a court worker who had moved out of his house into his garage so that he could rent out the bedrooms to make the mortgage payments.

‘Intellectual property’ monopolies boost housing costs

The Silicon Valley high-tech boom in recent years has caused housing costs to soar. High-tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple have, thanks to “intellectual property” monopolies and intense competition in hiring, shared out part of their super-profits to software engineers and other technical personnel in the form of wages, stock options and bonuses that have driven housing costs far above what most other workers can afford.

Meanwhile, the sluggish recovery of the overall economy, together with tax dodging by high-tech companies through offshore tax havens, has resulted in reduced revenue to support public services. Hence the effort by the Superior Court to hold down wages of its more than 300 clerks, researchers, family counselors, janitors and other workers.

The clerks’ militant strike was a needed response to this intolerable situation. More workers are sure to follow in their footsteps.