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Sacramento County court workers blame interference from the Administrative Office of the Courts for the impasse that sent them out on strike Tuesday. About 400 of approximately 540 union employees at Sacramento’s five courthouses went on strike. They were scheduled to vote Tuesday evening whether to continue the strike today. United Public Employees, Local 1, which represents Sacramento court workers, contends the AOC is trying to influence bargaining by requiring local court administrators to put language in the contract limiting salary increases. AOC director William Vickrey denied that. What is probably happening, he said, is that someone — either the union or local court administrators — is misinterpreting budgetary guidelines put out by Chief Justice Ronald George in a Sept. 17 letter. The Sacramento union has been bargaining with local court administrators since May. The contract expired June 30. Last week, the State Conciliation and Mediation Service was called in to help on the talks, but the parties hit an impasse early Friday morning after a marathon bargaining session. Union business agent Ted Somera said things were rolling along until the two sides started talking about raises and benefits subsidies. The union wants salary increases of 2 to 5 percent each year for the life of a contract; court administrators offered one-tenth of 1 percent, Somera said. Court executives say their hands are tied by the state budget crisis, which has translated into severe cuts for courts statewide, and they say larger increases could result in layoffs. But it’s not just a disagreement over numbers. Somera also alleges that the presiding judge of Sacramento County, Michael Garcia, is using his influence as a new Judicial Council member to get the AOC involved in the local negotiations. Somera contends local court administrators said they had been ordered by George and the AOC to add language to the contract halting salary increases when budgets are tight. “We believe it’s an unfair labor practice for an outside entity [like the AOC] to be interfering,” Somera said. But Vickrey denied any interference and also denied Garcia has made any attempt to get the AOC involved. Vickrey pointed out that Garcia was not yet even a voting member of the council, nor was he sitting on the council’s budget committee. Neither Garcia nor Sacramento court executives could be reached for comment. Although the union’s Web site, in a message to members, says “the Sacramento Court contends that they have been ordered by Chief Justice Ron George to put language in our contract,” Vickrey also denied that George is taking any kind of special interest in Sacramento. Although it’s difficult to know exactly what was said during last week’s bargaining session, which ended at 3 a.m. Friday, Vickrey said it’s more likely that any mention of the AOC’s interest in contract negotiations was a reference to a set of guidelines put out by George in a Sept. 17 letter. Those guidelines do not include such a directive from George, Vickrey said. The strike was the third walkout by employees in California courts since 1997′s historic Trial Court Labor Funding Act. Workers in San Joaquin and Santa Clara counties have also gone on brief strikes.

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