The Santa Clara County Superior Court dropped a bombshell on its lowest paid employees Wednesday, laying off 52 people just before the administration was set to meet for negotiations with their service-workers union.
Superior Court Professional Employees Association (SCPEA) spokesman Tom Saggau expressed outrage over the decision.
Saggau said he could only conclude that the administration was out for some type of payback four years after 300-plus SCPEA members went on strike for eight days, essentially shutting down South Bay courthouses for nearly two weeks.
“What really strikes me is what is their motivation for doing this,” he said. “It looks like they’re saying, ‘We’ll use this to teach the lower paid workers to stay in their place.’ They’re really trying to hurt the union—it’s blatantly obvious. I think they see this as getting a little payback unfortunately from the  strike. Well, we’re not going to put up with that, and we’re certainly not going down without a fight.”
Both sides are scheduled to meet over Zoom this afternoon in what should be a rather interesting negotiating session.
In an emailed statement, Santa Clara County Superior Court CEO Rebecca Fleming disputed Saggau’s characterization. “The court vehemently denies Mr. Saggau’s accusation of retaliation,” she said. “Facing a nearly $17 million budget shortfall, the court has been forced to implement a reduction in workforce, which it deeply regrets.”
The local court is the first in California to announce layoffs to close a budget gap left by Gov. Gavin Newsom $200 million cuts from trial courts.
At least SCPEA members have legal recourse in this situation, Saggau explained, as each worker is entitled to a hearing on why they were laid off. They’ll also appeal to their allies—the defense attorneys, prosecutors, public defenders and elected officials—to intervene.
Saggau said word will get out that the judges have mistreated the lowest paid workers in the Superior Court. “They’re the ones that run the court system and last time I checked, I didn’t see the judges taking a pay cut,” he said. “It smells like, ‘Let’s go after the clerks.’”
Over the last several weeks, the court administration and SCPEA have been negotiating concessions in lieu of layoffs, the latter a necessity due to the court’s reported $15 million budget deficit. According to Saggau, the administration said all along workers would either get laid off or furloughed, but not both.
“All along we were told it was an either/or,” he said. “It was never, ‘Hey, take these furloughs and we’re still doing layoffs.’ Because it’s not what they did with everyone else [other employees of the court], and it’s not what they said at the bargaining table. It was always an either/or, and now it’s both. That’s no bueno.”
What really irked Saggau was what he calls the severe mistreatment of literally the lowest paid workers in the Superior Court, most of whom are women and people of color. According to Saggau, the administration gave a “golden handshake deal” to the managers of the Superior Court, including a severance package and a guaranteed period of time of no layoffs. Why didn’t the SCPEA members receive the same offer?
“They cut the managers a deal, but they’re not willing to do that for us,” Saggau said. “We’re scratching our heads as to why we’ve been treated differently. Why are the lowest paid workers not given the option of the higher paid managers? It’s blatantly unfair, really shameful and utterly heartless what the court administration is doing to the workers. It’s cold-hearted and unnecessary. I think they’ve waited in the bushes, and now they see an opportunity to harm us. And that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.”
Article has been updated with a statement from Court CEO Rebecca Fleming.