California, Crime, Labor / Employment, Money, Politics

Bay Area Prosecutors Consider Going on Strike. Yeah, Seriously.

Ideally, prosecutors can afford a bed instead of just a park bench.

Did you hear the one about prosecutors going on strike? No? Me either, until now. A county DA’s office in the San Francisco suburbs announced this week they are considering striking to protest new, unpopular labor contract.

As David Lat said when I told him about the story, “Wow, that’s wild.” The idea of prosecutors going on strike struck Lat as comparable to the prospect of police officers going on strike.

Why exactly does the prosecutor’s office feel like a walkout might be justified? Maybe being “the most understaffed, overworked prosecutorial unit in the Bay Area” has something to do with it…

From the Mercury News:

Contra Costa supervisors are preparing to impose an employment contract on county prosecutors after two years of failed labor negotiations — a move that has deputy district attorneys discussing an unprecedented strike.

The attorneys, tired of being the lowest-paid prosecutors per capita in the Bay Area, say this is the first time in memory they’ve considering striking.

Do you think they had a protest where the disenchanted prosecutors marched around shouting “si se puede!”, or do they have another lawyerly chant? They are specifically angry about a County Board Of Supervisors meeting that happened yesterday.

The board voted to impose a labor contract that includes “deep wage cuts.” The contract passed despite its unpopularity and over the objections of Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson. From the Mercury News’s second article on the issue from yesterday (both pieces are worth reading and are full of juicy soundbites regarding, among other things, the logistical nightmare of a lawyer strike):

“I can give you the money you need,” Peterson told the Board of Supervisors before it voted 4-1 to impose the one-year labor contract that calls for a 5.24 percent wage cut, effective Sept. 1, and would make the attorneys 100 percent responsible for the employee share of contributions to retirement benefits.

Ouch — no one likes a pay cut, especially when you already feel like you’re getting the short end of the Bay Area’s prosecutorial stick. (For what it’s worth, Contra Costa County, where I grew up, is the seemingly endless semi-rural suburbia stretching east of Oakland and Berkeley all the way to the Central Valley.)

The DA’s office said even considering the strike is “unprecedented.” I can’t say I’ve heard of anything similar happening anywhere else. (If any of our readers know of other situations like this, please share in the comments.) We all know government lawyers don’t rake in the big bucks of Biglaw, but when the office’s pay range is just $70,000 to $150,000, cuts like this have major consequences, according to officials in the department:

[C]utting compensation further will hurt morale and likely lead to more attorneys leaving, Peterson said.

He said he is tired of experienced attorneys leaving to work in neighboring counties, hindering the office’s ability to man caseloads and crime-prevention programs that he says will save the county millions of dollars long term.

The supervisors said they were only able to pass a balanced budget this year because the county’s employee unions have made sacrifices, and that deputy district attorneys need to do the same. Some supervisors said that any savings Peterson could provide in his budget should be used to fill vacancies, thereby enhancing services to the community.

Supervisor Karen Mitchoff sounds particularly unsympathetic: “You are overworked and underpaid? Welcome to the club. All of our county employees are working harder with less take-home pay. The bottom line is we don’t have the money.”

Following a long awkward pause after Mitchoff’s comment, everyone in the room exclaimed, “Well, excuse the f*** outta me!”

No, but seriously, Supervisor Candace Andersen of Danville, the lone dissenter on the vote, thinks the board’s opinion is ridiculous. She also, apparently, is trying to win Elie’s heart. Andersen, according to the Mercury News, realizes that you “can’t treat every bargaining unit identically.”

Especially when the members of that unit had to incur thousands of dollars in debt to get their jobs. I can understand the County’s argument of “We’re broke.” But good luck fighting crime if your DAs are sleeping in the streets.

Contra Costa prosecutors mull strike as supervisors prepare to impose contract [Mercury News]
Contra Costa supervisors impose contract on prosecutors’ union [Mercury News]

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