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A California Senate subcommittee charged with making recommendations on the governor’s proposed court budget this week nixed a plan to give the state a stronger role in court employee labor negotiations. The subcommittee rejected language from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office that would require the Judicial Council of California to establish a working group to review trial court employee bargaining issues. Meanwhile, a local union that represents hundreds of San Francisco Superior Court employees announced members had authorized a strike by a vote of 220-4. No date has been set, though court workers scheduled a rally for Thursday. Earlier this month, the governor announced he had reached a pact with the judicial branch that would give courts another $100 million in exchange for “structural reforms” to the collective bargaining process that would give the state a louder say in the outcome. The deal angered labor representatives, and the Administrative Office of the Courts then said it hadn’t traded, and couldn’t trade, authority over court employees for needed money. On Wednesday, members of the Senate’s budget subcommittee, which is chaired by Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Santa Ana, unanimously agreed to bland language stating “it is the intent of the Legislature to address the collective bargaining in the trial courts.” The “intent” language keeps the issue alive through the conference committee process that will take place later in budget negotiations, since an Assembly Budget Committee killed the governor’s plan outright. But union leaders said they still felt their concerns had been addressed by the legislature. “This is the first victory in a seven-game series,” said Michelle Castro, government relations advocate for Service Employees International Union. “The issue is going to go to a conference committee, so this is one step in many before the budget gets enacted.” The Assembly budget subcommittee on Wednesday also refused to act on a plan by the governor to begin a phase-in of electronic reporting for a savings of an estimated $6.4 million. The Senate subcommittee, at the request of Senate leadership, adopted language stating “it is the intent of the legislature to address the use of electronic equipment in trial courts.” Gov. Schwarzenegger’s plan to appropriate 75 percent of all punitive damages awards, meanwhile, ran into resistance from the Assembly and Senate budget subcommittees. Both are expected to refuse to act on the governor’s proposal that the plan be adopted as part of the budget agreement. The Senate budget subcommittee is expected to approve language requesting Schwarzenegger respond to questions about how damages would be calculated in cases that settle, as well as concerns that his proposals “potentially undermine” plaintiffs’ right to a fair trial. In San Francisco, court employees represented by SEIU Local 790 are angry at what they call a lack of progress in negotiations that have been going on since March, said SEIU field representative Faye Roe. The union represents about 300 employees in the civil, criminal and juvenile courts, most of them deputy court clerks. “They have moved a little bit, but they have not moved significantly enough,” Roe said. A strike would be a last resort, she added. Court officials have taken off the table a proposal to cut wages by 3 percent, Roe said. But the parties are still at an impasse over proposals for employees to contribute more take-home pay to their retirement plans, and to assume all new health insurance premium costs, according to the union. San Francisco Superior Court CEO Gordon Park-Li said he wasn’t aware the union had voted on the possibility of a strike, but “everyone is remaining optimistic that we’ll come to an agreement.” Reporter Pam Smith contributed to this story.

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