Santa Clara County Court Strike over Wages Enters Fifth Day

UPDATE, Aug. 10, 2016: Court workers agreed to enter mediation, but will continue the strike. “Santa Clara County Superior Court and the Superior Court Professional Employees Association have agreed to mediation to help the parties resolve our differences,” the union announced Wednesday.We have agreed upon a professional mediator, with whom we will meet tomorrow, Thursday Aug. 11, in San Jose.”

Santa Clara County court clerks demanding higher pay continued their strike into day five on Tuesday, forcing South Bay courthouses to suspend all but essential services.

Hundreds of clerks camped outside the Hall of Justice on Hedding Street in San Jose hoisting up signs that read, “Shame on the judges for allowing this to happen,” and “No raise in eight years, no justice.”

The walkout marks the court’s first strike in 14 years, according to workers, who say they’ve gone eight years without a raise. Union reps estimated that about three-quarters of the 383 members took part in the protest, which began Aug. 3 after negotiators reached an impasse.

“We’re sorry that we’re hurting the public,” said 36-year court clerk Ingrid Stewart, president of the Superior Court Professional Employees Association. “But we’re dealing with a 30 to 50 percent vacancy rate, cuts to service and money being spent on new buildings instead of the people who keep the courts in operation.”

Stewart added that the courts gambled with public money by building a $208 million Family Justice Center in downtown San Jose instead of investing in workers who struggle to afford living in Silicon Valley. To drive the point home, union lobbyists set up a craps table outside the courthouse Monday morning, the Mercury News reported.

Court interpreters raised similar concerns about court spending in an investigative report published by San Jose Inside in June.

Court officials said it’s inaccurate to portray the new courthouse as a choice between new facilities and employee wages.

“The Family Justice Center will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and help local families and those with serious mental health and substance abuse issues,” the Santa Clara County Superior Court wrote in a statement last week. “It’s unfortunate that it is being used to justify attempts to shut down the Court. The Family Justice Center is owned by the State of California and its funding has no direct relationship with employee wages. We are saddened by these efforts to portray the Family Justice Center as a choice between building materials and wages, especially since the Court’s last, best final offer would give a 9.5 percent net wage increase to employees.”

In 2015, the clerks’ union declined a 4.5 percent wage raise spread out over two years. This summer, the offer ticked up to a 5 percent pay increase for 88 percent of workers with at least six years in the court’s employ.

Last week, the union turned that down, too, because they want to see raises extended to future years to account for increases in cost of living. Stewart said employees want a second-year raise of 3 percent.

“We’re on our fifth day out here,” she said. “Back to the table, but we’re in it to win it.”

Court officials urged members of the public to still show up to previously scheduled hearings, even though they will likely get postponed to a later date. There will be a grace period for anyone who misses a deadline because of the strike, officials added.

The employee association has set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for workers. By end of day Tuesday, donations approached $32,000.

Hundreds of court employees protested on Tuesday, day five of the strike. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

Hundreds of court employees protested on Tuesday, day five of the strike. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

Below is a rundown of services still available during the strike, according to a press release issued by the court.

  • All essential functions (outlined below) will be maintained.
  • All divisions are hearing cases on a limited basis, including: Criminal (felony and Misdemeanor), Drug/Mental Health, Family, Child Support, Civil, Probate, Small Claims, Traffic, Unlawful Detainer, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Dependency.
  • Jury selection is continuing for some criminal departments. Individuals summoned for jury duty should continue to utilize existing practices prescribed on their summons to see if they are needed until they have been formally dismissed by the court.
  • Clerk’s Offices at the following locations are closed; however, filings or payments placed in the drop boxes at each of these locations will be processed: Sunnyvale (Family), Terraine (Drug/Mental Health), Morgan Hill (Criminal), Palo Alto (Criminal), Santa Clara (Traffic), Terraine (Juvenile Dependency), Guadalupe (Juvenile Justice).
  • Those wishing to speak to court personnel by phone should expect higher than usual wait/return call times.
  • Those who have hearings scheduled [during the strike] should plan to come to court. If a hearing cannot go forward due to staffing shortages, another date will be provided at that time.
  • The Self-Help Center will reopen on a limited basis.
Strikers have camped out every day from 7am to dusk since the walkout began last week. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

Strikers have camped out every day from 7am to dusk since the walkout began last week. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Santa Clara sheriff deputies take bull horns out of the hands of Superior Courk Clerk Strikers during 5 th day of strike.

  2. I believe that the minimum wages in 2009 were $8.00/hour and today the wages are $10.00/hour; if this is correct than you should have at least since 2009 a 25% wage increase, and then living allowance. Also, if this state goes up to minmimum wage of $15.00/hour like Honorable Judge Jerome Nadler thought it might be in the near future or some thing like that you should ask the Department of Labor what is is expected to be and use that as a guideline.

  3. So…why aren’t the judges putting pressure for administration to do what’s right and give these hard working citizens a living wage?

  4. Thank you Jennifer for helping to expose these issues.

    Most people are not mad at the people striking, they are mad at the judges who have been known to be unfair and appear to be corrupt . And they are mad at court administrators who were willing to go out and spend $208,000,000 for a new courthouse. but couldn’t work out a plan to pay a living wage to the people who work in that courthouse.

    As the clerks are asking for a few thousand more a year , the judges are issuing sanctions to some of the county’s most corrupt lawyers. It is not uncommon for judges like Mark Pierce , Mary Ann Grilli, Vincent Chairello, Arron Persky and James Towery to sanction parents in need of and seeking child support $100,000, , where the judge claims it is just because there is house equity somewhere, never mind that is equal to entire child support over a child’s court lifetime where they need support .

    These judges and the people managing our courts have a warped financial sense. Good for the clerks- they need to keep speaking up , exposing what is really going on and standing up for a fair wage in a court where judges live in financial fantasyland , and where they have far too much unchecked power to ruin the financial lives of people in their court, and working for the court.

    • Thank you, Q! By the way, here’s the latest update I received from the union just before midnight:

      This evening the SCPEA Board of Directors and Negotiating Team unanimously voted to enter talks with the court administration to achieve our goal of not accepting a zero in year two. Our legal counsel conveyed to the courts that SCPEA will enter mediated settlement negotiations. Both sides will work tomorrow to select a mediator and schedule settlement negotiations by the end of this week.

      The Board and Negotiating Team would not agree to enter settlement negotiations unless we had every indication and belief that achieving our goal for year two was possible. What we know for certain is that if we return to work tomorrow, we will lose the investment each of you has made to get what you deserve. We will lose any chance at gaining pay for the days we walked the picket line and we will lose any chance at a pay increase in year 2. We will also suffer from management who will be emboldened to treat us any way they like. Trust your Board/Negotiating Team and stay off the job as we navigate these settlement talks.

      We want to correct a false rumor floating around: The court can only take your benefits away if you do not work for an entire pay period.

      Strike Continues Tomorrow Wednesday August 10, 2016

      Hall of Justice

      190 West Hedding Street

      San Jose, CA 95110

      Our president will provide an update for everyone at 9 a.m.

  5. Absolute leaches. Don’t like the pay find a job that fits your qualifications. If you don’t have any then take the pay the public allows an unqualified person to have. At least they are doing something and it’s not welfare. Unions are the destruction of capitalism and it sickens me.

  6. A 9.5% pay raise?? That is a lot more money, for doing the same old job. For the most part, they are jobs any high school graduate could do with minimal training.

    What justifies such a big raise? For example, Social Security raises are based on the cost of living index. Over the past several years those have been very small raises; less than 2% per year. Just like in several recent years, this year’s Social Security raise is zero.

    Court workers are not highly educated professionals. Those jobs don’t require a 4-year degree, and they aren’t a skilled trade. Anyone with average intelligence can do their job. That’s why they deflect their argument to irrelevant things like building costs. What are court workers doing that would justify such a big pay raise?

    Their jobs could be filled by this year’s crop of high school graduates. Maybe that’s why 25% of them won’t go out on strike. I was a union member (for 30 years; two strikes), and we always had well over 90% of our membership go out when a strike was called. If 25% of our union members refused to stop working, our strike would promptly collapse — which will happen here anyway if court workers start coming back to work. If some of the striking workers decide that the pay they get now is better than holding a picket sign in the hot sun, their the union will suddenly sing a different tune, and tell them that a 9.5% raise is extremely good. Which it is — it’s too good.

    Those unskilled workers should either get a (worthwhile) degree, or learn a trade where they can’t easily be replaced, like plumber, electrician, pipefitter, truck driver, drywall taper, carpenter, electronic technician, airline mechanic, etc., etc. Then they would have some legitimate bargaining power. Right now, what have they got? Their leverage comes from inconveniencing the public. That’s all.

    The court system can easily replace each of these unskilled workers. Others can do the job just as well. With 25% of the union workers still on the job and with their supervisors and managers still working, new replacements can be trained in a few weeks. And the current pay would look pretty good to someone just starting out.

    I wouldn’t normally care, but that 9.5% raise isn’t being paid by a private sector employer, it’s being paid by the public — and taxpayers would prefer to have supply and demand determine wages, rather than negotiators with no skin in the game. Our taxes are too high already, and there is no legitimate reason for a 9.5% increase when the cost of living is far lower than that. And please, no complaints about high rents, etc. That’s not the fault of the court system.

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a liberal Democrat, but even he drew the line at public employees unionizing and striking. This is the result: the public is being held hostage. Because the public isn’t negotiating — someone else is. The money being demanded is ours. But who represents the taxpaying public in these negotiations?

    If these court workers want better pay, they need to learn a skill that’s worth the money. Because none of their arguments here are the least bit convincing to the folks paying the freight.

    • “What justifies such a big raise? For example, Social Security raises are based on the cost of living index. Over the past several years those have been very small raises; less than 2% per year.”

      The U.S. government issues FAKE STATISTICS for EVERYTHING, including GDP, CPI, Unemployment Rates and more. They do this by constantly changing the underlying criteria used to calculate these figures. But if you go to you will find the REAL numbers based on the exact same criteria used by the U.S. government itself BEFORE the changes occurred. So for example the REAL figure for inflation is currently 8-9% annually and unemployment is at 23%.

      You are a very naive & uninformed person.

  7. What these workers do are basically like McJobs.

    All true, if they want more money, they need to have skills that will pay more. For what they do, they bring nothing to the table.

    They’re just using critical mass to force their will on the taxpayers. We mustn’t give an inch.

  8. You can thank Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brown who, during his first tenure, championed the right of public employees to unionize, and thus to strike. The entire mind set of union workers is that they are entitled to more money simply due to the passage of time. Everyone gets the same raise, from the highest performing employee to the utter slacker, who you can’t fire due to union rules. That’s a truly communistic principle. I practiced law for 41 years, mostly in Santa Clara County, and dealt frequently with court clerks. Many were hard workers, and earned their pay. Many were not hard workers, yet earned the same pay. The vast majority of courtroom clerks deserve more pay. So are most calendar clerks and law and motion clerks on the first floor of the Downtown Superior Court. However, most of the clerks who accept filings on the first floor are slackers. It matters not to them that there is a big line of people waiting to file documents. They chat away with their friends who work for the filing service companies, dawdling along, oblivious to the line. They don’t care, because they don’t have to. And their supervisors who walk by, observe them chatting instead of working yet do nothing, don’t deserve raises either.

  9. Has anyone requested court salary information from the Santa Clara County judiciary since 2009, when Bay Area News Group requested a huge data dump from every county in the state? The article refers to “no raises for 7 years”, which (since it’s currently 2016) would appear to match up with the last requested information.

    I would like to see what positions actually did end up getting raises in the intervening years.

    Also, how do raises and salaries for judges work? I understand that they’re paid directly by the State of California Comptroller’s Office, but this means that they’ve got different rules in place than the county.

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