Strike slows courthouse operations; workers to picket until agreement is reached

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Strike slows courthouse operations; workers to picket until agreement is reached

Court operations grounded to a halt on Tuesday in Fresno County when employees went on strike.

"What do we want?" started the chants from SEIU members dressed in purple in front of the courthouse. "A fair contract. When do we want it? Now. If we don't get it? Shut it down."

A purple rain fell on Fresno County's criminal courthouse, making the wheels of justice a little slippery.

RELATED: 'We just want a fair contract:' Fresno County court workers to strike if agreement not met

Only a few court reporters and clerks showed up to work -- enough for minimal coverage in the courts.

Four trials had to hit the brakes, and every felony case crammed into just a few courtrooms, where judges had to delay nearly every case.

"It was total chaos today in the courtrooms, but I have to say the judges did the best they could trying to handle the situation," said legal analyst Tony Capozzi, who had cases to handle.

Capozzi says the disarray is okay temporarily, but if it lasts for days or even weeks it could affect the right to a speedy trial for defendants. This could mean criminals aren't brought to justice and the general public would be exposed to more danger.

"If this keeps up this is really going to be catastrophic for the court," he said. "There's no question about that. These clerks and these court reporters are essential to the system."

In two rounds of mediation, court reporters asked the courts to restore them to 40 hours a week. They gave up five hours during the recession in 2012.

The courts are offering them 37-and-a-half hours, which would keep them as the only court reporters in the state who don't get a full week's worth of work.

Other employees are asking the courts to cover a health insurance rate hike.

The courts are offering an average raise of about $1,700 a year, but clerks say that's still a pay cut for 60 of them because of the insurance increase.

Court staffers told Action News they didn't want to strike. They wanted a deal.

"We sent an email out (Monday) to admin asking them to go back to the table, that we did not want to continue," said court reporter Denise Dedmon who also serves as union president. "We did not want to strike. We wanted to be here to serve the public. We did not want the chaos to happen. We have not heard anything back from them as of yet."

Action News tried to reach court administration, but they haven't responded to emails, calls or visits in the last two days.

Employees say they're prepared for the strike to drag on for a while.
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