Statewide budget cuts forced Santa Barbara County Superior Court employees to take a mandatory, unpaid day off Monday, Nov. 10.
The forced leave of absence was one of a total of 13 days that local court employees will not receive pay as a result of the current California state budget crisis. According to the State Judicial Council, the budget crunch has reduced the California judicial branch budget by a total of $133.7 million dollars for fiscal year 2003-04, with more cuts to follow.
These cuts have already trickled down to the Santa Barbara County Superior Court budget, trimming it by 5 percent, said George Greene, a representative of the Local 620 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 192 county court employees.
Greene said that the union negotiated furloughs, which are forced unpaid days off, with superior court management to avoid layoffs.
“Had we not agreed to [furloughs], we would be facing 30 to 40 layoffs,” Greene said. “We’re in the middle of long, ugly, unproductive negotiations.”
The furloughs affect all county court employees, not just Local 620 SEIU members, Greene said.
Although workers will be losing the wages they normally would have earned on these days, Greene said their retirement plans and benefits would not be affected.
As compensation for the furlough, workers will receive extra three days off next fiscal year and one extra day off the year after that. Greene said the holidays can be used at any time, and will not affect the number of employees’ sick days. The union and court management tried to schedule the furloughs for days that would be convenient for employees.
Because last Tuesday was the Veterans Day holiday, Greene said negotiators scheduled a furlough for the preceding Monday to give workers a four-day weekend.
If the court’s financial situation does not improve next year, Greene said jobs might be at stake.
“There’s no way we can take a hit like this next year,” he said. “If we do, we’re looking at a drastic reduction in the work force.”
Gary Blair, Santa Barbara County superior court executive officer, could not be reached for comment.