Court Funds Tied To Worker-Pension Increases



In case anyone needed the top budget issue explained, reporter Katie Orr at Capital Public Radio makes it clear: “At the most basic level, California’s budget allocates money to state programs for the year. But Gov. Jerry Brown also wants to use it to push his agenda.” She notes that “… Brown is proposing a funding increase of $160 million for the trial courts this year, but wants court employees to contribute more to their pensions.”
Other experts equate tying funds to pension contributions is like using federal money to increase the age for legal consumption of alcohol and other issues. She does not include an immediate response from labor or employees who might think it odd to tie their pensions to keeping courts open.

Brown Budget Targets Employee Pensions

Court-community reviews of Gov. Brown’s new budget are mixed, with state Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye terming it “encouraging” in a statement but labor advocates worried about plans to increase court employees contributions to their pensions. Meanwhile, along with a $60 million increase from his previous plans, Gov. Brown is framing the budget as a two-year process, meaning some real decisions might come after his Nov. re-election bid.
CCM staff photo

CCM staff photo

Discussions are no doubt being held to figure out what the next four weeks will bring. But the Contra Costa Times is among those noting lawmaker support for more courts funding, reporting that “… the chief justice had backing from state legislators, who recently proposed restoring more than $200 million in court funding in the upcoming budget year. Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and the judiciary committee chairman, said Brown’s courts budget is still ‘far short’ of the hundreds of millions of dollars it needs to handle its caseloads and keep courthouses open and running.”
Missing from the discussion so far: re-opening any of the closed courts or re-hiring any of the nearly 4,000 court workrs laid off over the past few years.

June Budget Challenges Union Talks

With next month’s state budget deadlines looming, several union contracts remain in limbo – including the “California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment” group. If they miss next month’s deadline for an agreement-and-funding decision, they will have to wait until August to resume discussions. Union officials told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that an unexpected shift in top management has delayed the agreement, but that time is growing short.
Missing the deadline this year would be especially irritating, not only because the state has a surplus budget for the first time in years but because many state-worker unions are getting raises that kick in July 1.

Pensions Next Target For Cutbacks?

Courthouse workers and other public employees should take notice of a Detroit judge’s ruling that public employee pensions are just contracts, not really guarantees at all. If that ruling is upheld on appeal, it means that funds like the California Public Employee Pension System are not as protected as many thought. In effect, the judge is saying that federal laws trump state assurances.
The Press-Democrat newspaper in Sonoma County is among those offering analysis of the decision, writing in an editorial that “… to cover soaring retirement costs, which in some places are approaching 50 cents on every payroll dollar, cities and counties in California and across the country have laid off workers and slashed spending on parks, street maintenance and other public services. A handful have filed under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code; others are weighing the possibility”
You already see pensions at issue in the high-profile San Bernardino bankruptcy debate. You also hear whispers that, should public employee pensions be questioned, the issue could be real leverage in the next round of budget negotiations. Read the Press-Democrat editorial, which outlines the issue pretty well, here.

Judicial Pay Hike Continues To Make News

That pay increase for California judges continues to make headlines, especially since the hike will be retroactive back to July 1 and none of the increase was discussed amid decisions to eliminate courthouse jobs. But the raises are virtually mandated by state law, which ties judicial pay increases to the average pay increase received by other state employees.
That same law means the judges could be in line for a 4.5 percent pay increase by the middle of 2015, even if none of the eliminated court jobs are ever reinstated. Even with the state law and the fact that judges have not gotten a pay raise since 2007. Superior Court judges earn $178,789 per yea, and that’s going to $181,292. Justices on the appeals court will get bumped to $207,463, up from $204,599.
The pay increase will also have a cascading effect in San Diego and several other counties, where the pay for members of the county Board of Supervisors is tied to the pay of judges.
There’s a good story about the raises, and ties to county supervisor pay, at the U-T San Diego website here.

Fresno: Union Blasts Court-Linked Supervisor Pay Hike

In Fresno County, the same judicial pay increase that raised eyebrows statewide is giving county supervisors more money. That pay hike comes after the supes took a hard line on rank-and-file salaries, and it happens because the county leaders years ago tied their salaries to judicial pay.
Last week, the Judicial Council of California and the state Judges Association sent out a memo to announce a 1.4% judicial pay increase. That same memo noted that a 4.5 percent hike is expected in the next year or so.
The Fresno supervisor raise brought sharp comment from a labor group, with the Fresno Bee newspaper quoting Alysia Bonner, a county employee and Region 4 vice president for SEIU Local 521: “It’s just incredible that they’d take another raise before they’d invest in Fresno… they constantly talk about cutting services and tightening belts, but they don’t have any trouble taking more money for doing less. They are part-time workers. The rest of us work for a living.” The union represents more than 4,000 county workers.
Read the Fresno Bee story by John Ellis here.

Marin County Superior Court on ‘losing end’ of budget reallocations

Photo: Marin Independent Journal as part of their report on 10/25/13 "Marin court employees, raiseless for five years, rally for better pay"

Photo: Marin Independent Journal as part of their report on 10/25/13 “Marin court employees, raiseless for five years, rally for better pay”

According to a report by Gary Klien of Marin Independent Journal, dozens of court employees in Marin County, with representatives of their union, SEIU Local 1021, rallied outside the courthouse late last month to campaign for better pay, benefits and dispute resolution after five years of frozen wages.  

Doesn’t look like this will be resolved anytime soon…Court employees are seeking a $4,000 one-time payment, while Marin Superior Court, which is run by the state judicial branch, is offering a one-time payment of $725.  

According to the Marin IJ report, Kim Turner, the court’s chief executive officer, said the entire state judiciary has been underfunded for years and that things are not going to get easier in the next five years. Turner explained that it is because the state has adopted a new allocation process that will send more of the limited resources to courts that are perceived, based on caseload calculations, to be needier.

“Marin is on the losing end of that bargain,” Turner said.  Read or view the story here.



Gov. Brown Vetoes Limits On Court Outsourcing


In a move bound to be greeted as anti-labor by union leadership, California Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have required any courthouse-job outsourcing to include proof that it would actually save money. In effect, unions representing court workers had argued that outsourcing simply moved public money into private pockets.
In his veto announcement Monday, Gov. Brown said the bill went too far and required “… California’s courts to meet overly-detailed and — in some cases — nearly impossible requirements when entering into or renewing certain contracts.” He also said “flexibility” was part of his decision.
As Courthouse News noted in its coverage, the bill was primarily backed by the California Court Reporters Association and the Service Employees International Union and was considered a response to Placer County Superior Court’s firing of its entire court reporter staff and replacement with private contractors. Read the CN story here.

Paper Notes $93 Million Question For Trial Courts

The Desert Dispatch newspaper in San Bernardino County is among few outlets noting that the California Judicial Council will decide THIS WEEK where to allocate up to $93 million of “special funds” to support trial courts. Meeting in San Francisco starting Thursday, that group will evaluate recommendations from yet another committee, the “Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee.”
Citing the “state judiciary,” the Desert Dispatch says “… the two special funds provide primary support to self help centers, technology support and initiatives, the civil litigation program, education of judges and court staff and reimbursement for other court costs.” To some, especially to labor leaders, that seems like money that is not going directly to save courthouse jobs – an issue that links back to the state budget mandate for some budget increases to target jobs and keeping courthouses open.
To read more, check out the story here.

‘System Failure’ Closes ‘Public’ Court Budget Meeting

State officials are blaming a “systems failure” for loss of an audiocast feed that effectively shut unions and others out of a key budget-allocation meeting this week. The failure took on added impact, union leadership noted, because they had not received timely notice about the meeting and were relying on the audio. While the Administrative Office of the Courts set up a conference line for some of the budget committee members, there were not enough lines for labor officials and even legislative aides who wanted to hear about how court money is being divided.
The Courthouse News quoted Michelle Castro with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) saying that  “… we have a vested interest in trial court funding; how the funds get distributed and what purposes they are establishing priorities around,” Michelle Castro with the SEIU said in an interview. “We’re at a very critical juncture in the trial courts. We are going through extreme amounts of cuts on the backs of court workers.”
At issue are deliberations of a special advisory committee for trial court budgets that approved roughly $72 million for programs supporting the trial courts and technology projects. The Courthouse News reported that the “… allocations included $18 million to maintain interim versions of the now-defunct Court Case Management System and the Arizona server that hosts it.” That’s bound to raise eyebrows because the state legislature approved a last-minute $60 million for trail courts with the direction it be used to save jobs and keep courts open – there has been a concern that money might be directly spent on other areas or diverted to replace money that would have otherwise gone for those purposes. 
     “Our big issue is the Legislature said this $60 million was directly supposed to go to making sure the court doors were open. Is that really happening?” said a union official in the Courthouse News story. Read more here.