FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno County court reporters, clerks and other court staff spilled out of the courthouse and into Courthouse Park last Thursday in a show of solidarity after two failed mediation sessions discussing a new contract.
A day later, several court reporters called in sick and court cases inside the building ground almost to a halt.
Unless they get a new deal Monday, they all will go on strike Tuesday.
"I think it's going to be worse, a lot worse than Friday. And on a long term basis there will be a lot of people suffering whether it's family law, the criminal courts, dependency courts, they're all going to suffer," said Natalie Kjar, a court reporter and vice president of her union.
For most of the employees, the beef starts with rising health insurance costs.
They say it eats up any raises they might be getting, so they want court administration to cover the extra cost.
Court reporters are not asking for a raise in hourly wages; they just want to get back to 40 hours a week. Five hours were cut back during the recession in 2012.
Almost seven years later, they say Fresno County is the only one in California not giving court reporters a full week's worth of work.
"From my understanding, the economy doesn't justify that right now. We should've been reinstated at 40 hours and that's all we're asking for. The court reporters aren't even asking for a cost of living increase," Kjar said.
Felony courts cannot handle cases without court reporters, so cases could be on hold -- and the right to a speedy trial could be put to a test.
Court administrators are negotiating to get some employees to come in despite the strike for minimum operations.
They're offering reporters 37.5 hours a week and raises of about $1,700 for other employees, although the insurance hike would eat up most of that.
"We're hoping they'll come back as late as 2 a.m. (Tuesday) morning and tell us they're ready to go back and talk about this, because we don't want to shut things down here. We want to keep working. We just want a fair contract," Kjar said.