After a week of being on strike, Fresno County Superior Court workers reached a tentative agreement on Tuesday (Jan. 22) to return to work.
“Our members were at the forefront of these negotiations, backed by an outpouring of support from community residents, our union sisters and brothers across Fresno County and California, and elected leaders at the local, state and federal levels,” said Denise Dedmon, a court reporter and SEIU 521 chapter president.
The strike started on Jan. 15 when hundreds of courthouse workers braved the cold weather and light rain to rally for better pay, more work hours and healthcare benefits by holding picket lines calling for #JusticeForFresno outside the courthouse.
According to the union, the new agreement will benefit Fresno County residents by investing in front-line courthouse services, which in turn will make justice speedier and more accessible for the community.
“Our unrelenting commitment to standing up for ourselves and our community is the reason we have a tentative agreement which truly invests in increasing access to our justice system,” Dedmon said. “This agreement allows us to resume the jobs that we love and move forward with the Court on our shared commitment to serving the residents of Fresno County.”
The proposed contract includes restoring court reporters to a 40-hour work week and increased service hours for the community, as well as guarantees that court staff won’t face unjust increases in health benefits for themselves or family.
Before going into effect, the tentative agreement must be ratified by court workers represented by the union.
During the five-day strike, chants such as “Bring us back! Bring us back! Bring us back! Bring us back!” could be heard as courthouse workers demonstrated peacefully as they congregated outside the court building.
Workers held signs on their hands that read “ON STRIKE” “MORE WORK LESS PAY NO WAY,” or “UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICE STRIKE,” while many of them had “We won’t be silenced” stickers covering their mouths.
On Jan. 18, courthouse workers held a press conference and rally outside the court building to update the community on their ongoing ‘unfair labor practice strike’ and their fight for a fair contract.
The press conference was also attended by allies and community members in support or the striking workers, who also honored the legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
During the conference, Dedmon said that court management accepted the union’s letter asking management to talk and get back to negotiations.
“We deserve to be treated with respect and we deserve a fair contract. That is all we are asking for,” she said.
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 for what they call “unfair labor practice.”
According to union vice president Natalie Kjar, the union has been negotiating with the court for a contract since July 2017 and the union was “in mediation twice” before they went into strike.
The union said workers were protesting management’s illegal actions throughout ongoing negotiations.
Many of the courtrooms were shutdown inside the building and the courts was working with a skeleton crew during the first day of the strike.