More than 30 court reporters and their supporters demonstrated in front of Orange County Superior Court on Friday, saying judges have dealt a major blow to their families by cutting their hours in order to slash their health care coverage in half.
They also question how Superior Court judges could take such an action while simultaneously avoiding touching their own benefits, which are fully paid by taxpayers.
“It’s devastating, especially for the breadwinners in the family,” said court reporter Lisa Rouly.
Court CEO Alan Carlson has declined to talk to the news media about the issue, citing ongoing contract negotiations.
Meanwhile, Rouly said some have seen their out-of-pocket health care payments go up threefold.
“It’s extreme. People have sold their houses. College tuitions aren’t getting paid for,” she said.
The workers gathered outside the courts in downtown Santa Ana, carrying banners and shouting: “What do we want? Health care. When do we want it? Now.”
Court reporters said their jobs were cut from full time – 40 hours a week – to 35 hours, thus reducing them to part-time workers who receive lower health benefits.
“What the judges in Orange County Superior Court have done is adopt this race to the bottom mentality – the Walmart model – for treating their employees,” said Jennifer Muir, assistant general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
“They’re cutting health care benefits for court reporters at the same time that they’re double-dipping on their own benefits. … It’s disgusting,” she said
By “double-dipping,” Muir referred to the fact that in addition to state-funded health care, the judges receive an extra $1.4-million in a yearly supplemental health care subsidy from the county government.
Orange County supervisors were given an option to cut that extra benefit this summer but decided not to after Presiding Superior Court Judge Thomas Boris warned that some judges would resign.
“I think you have made the promise to the people who are sitting judges right now that this is what you can expect,” he said. “Some of the judges probably would leave office.”
The county’s finance managers came up with the cuts as part of their examination of the county’s court costs that aren’t mandated.
As for the court reporters, Alicia DuBois said her health care payments have now jumped to more than $1,000 per month.
“It’s big,” she said. “The extra money that people would have to live on is gone.”
DuBois added that the court reporters often work past their official hours and that this move shows a lack of appreciation by the court’s non-judge management. “It’s an insult to us, and it’s hurtful to us,” she said.
The court reporters also said their ideas for other ways to save money, including reducing every court worker’s time by a half-hour per week, have been flatly rejected by the court’s leaders.
“We’ve given them several different ideas, suggestions. And they’ve all been turned away,” said Rouly.