Credit: Jean Yamamura

An aroma of pepperoni pizza drifted through the archway at the Santa Barbara courthouse as about 50 Superior Court employees gathered during their lunch hour to demand a new contract, specifically one that would raise their earnings to a living wage. As they marched out to circle the courthouse block, several munched on a slice, provided by their SEIU Local 620 organizers.

A member of the Service Employees International Union bargaining team said the $50,000 or so that courtroom clerks earned as a starting salary wasn’t enough to cover rent and family costs. “Courtroom clerks and court reporters keep the courts running,” said Becky Hoffman, “but we cannot recruit or retain qualified staff.” She added that as a courtroom clerk, their work was not entry level: “Court clerks maintain the minute orders of each courtroom proceeding and keep the judicial process moving.”

Darryl Scheck, executive director for SEIU Local 620, said the union represented about 150 employees whose average pay was about $24 an hour for skilled jobs. “The Superior Courts are state funded,” he said, “but the courts have discretion in how they use the money they get.” He stated that San Luis Obispo offered its court employees a 7 percent increase. In a press release, the union stated that inflation had risen by 7.8 percent this year compared to this time last year in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

In the first quarter of this year, a living wage for a single person in Santa Barbara County was said to be $25 an hour by the MIT Living Wage Calculator. With two children, that rose to $50 for a four-person family with one adult working, and $31 if both adults worked.

Court administrator Darrel Parker expressed sympathy for his workers’ struggle, saying he knew many of them commuted from Ventura and Oxnard and were affected by the skyrocketing price of gas. Their existing one-year contract had expired as negotiations were ongoing, said Parker, who added that the bargaining rules kept him from giving details of the talks. “We’re getting closer,” he was able to say, “but the challenge is that we get whatever the state government and Department of Finance give us. This year it was a 3.8 percent increase, which is not keeping up with inflation.”

Credit: Jean Yamamura

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