Braving the cold weather and light rain, Laura Garvin stood outside the Fresno Superior Court building holding a sign on her left hand with the words “ON STRIKE” and a noisy matraca to alert passersby by of the strike.
Garvin, who lives in Madera, has worked as judicial assistant for the court for about 25 years.
Garvin, María Maldonado and hundreds of courthouse workers represented by SEIU Local 521 went on strike Tuesday morning to demand better pay and benefits by holding two picket lines calling for #JusticeForFresno.
“We are going on strike to be treated better,” said Maldonado, a judicial assistant for more than 11 years. “They should pay us what is right to be able to survive with our children, our families without having to look for another job besides this one.”
“We are asking to be treated just,” Maldonado said, who was wearing a purple poncho to protect herself from the rain as well as holding a sign that read “Unfair labor practice strike.”
Court reporters, judicial assistants, office assistants, child custody recommending counselors, courtroom clerks, account clerks and more who assist the public in navigating the judicial system were among the various critical service providers who were participating in the protest.
With chants such as “Who are we? Court staff. What do we want? Fair contract. When do we want it? Now,” courthouse workers demonstrated peacefully as they congregated between the court building and the Fresno Police Department on M Street. Workers also marched on Mariposa Mall to B.F. Sisk Courthouse to demonstrate.
Natalie Kjar, vice president of Unit 15-SEIU 521, said the union has been negotiating with the court for a contract since July 2017 and “we have been in mediation twice and haven’t been able to come to a fair contract agreement.”
Kjar said the union would like court reporters to get their full 40 hours back prior to the Great Recession and for the other units to get a raise that would help them pay for the rise in healthcare benefits.
Kjar said courthouse workers will be on strike “as long as it takes.”
But she wishes that negotiation will resolve soon.
“Hopefully we are back in that building tomorrow doing our jobs and serving the public,” Kjar said, adding that on Monday the union send out a letter “asking (management) to talk and we haven’t heard nothing from them.”
The union said workers are protesting management’s “illegal actions throughout ongoing negotiations.”
Kjar said the many of the courtrooms were shutdown inside the building and the courts was working with a skeleton crew.
“There are several court reporters that we send in just to handle the bare minimum,” she said.
In a Tuesday morning e-mail, Suzanne Abi-Rached, court division manager Juror and Public Services Media coordinator, said “there is misinformation about the terms of the court’s latest offer.”
Abi-Rached e-mailed a copy of the tentative agreement signed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 bargaining representatives and the court on Nov. 19, 2018 as well a copy of the Sept. 27, 2018 employee benefits proposal that is referenced in the signed tentative agreement is also attached.
Abi-Rached didn’t clarify the misinformation and couldn’t be reach for comment.
“We are striking because justice delayed is justice denied, and management must put an end to unfair labor practices that seek to silence our voice,” Denise Dedmon, a court reporter and SEIU 521 chapter president.