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Teamsters Local 320 asked court for temporary block to court reporters’ IFP pilot
The one-year pilot project effectively reduces court reporters’ income by pulling IFP transcription work into normal work days, which are covered by their regular wages. Since 2006, court reporters have been required—and paid—to do IFPs on their off hours.
But the Judicial Council in June approved a one-year plan reeling much of that work into the normal workday. That would spare the Judicial Branch the cost of paying reporters a per-page fee for the work, which generally is performed for indigent litigants appealing their cases. If the pilot is successful, the change would become permanent.
On Sept. 15, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea issued an order that launched the pilot on Oct. 1.
Teamsters Local 320, which represents court staff, filed suit in Ramsey County District Court on Sept. 24, seeking to block the pilot because it was never properly negotiated or collectively bargained.
The Judicial Branch responded by saying it was unnecessary to negotiate that change, because the Branch retains “all inherent managerial rights necessary to operate and direct the affairs of the employer.” That includes the right to “select and direct personnel,” as it says the pilot project does.
Bernhardson’s ruling, filed at 11:08 p.m. Thursday, finds it a close call as to whether the Minnesota Judicial Branch (MJB) should have negotiated the change. But weighing out the five Dahlberg factors, the judge does not find the Branch’s “refusal to bargain is in bad faith.”
Bernhardson, countering the union’s claim, found the project would not “impair the union’s ability to negotiate with the MJB” now or in the future, so an injunction is not necessary to preserve the union’s relationship with the Branch. Nor would the union be irreparably harmed in the absence of an injunction, she found.
“While in the final analysis the MJB may be found to be in violation of its obligation to meet and negotiate, its position is not so unreasonable as to indicate a collapse of the bargaining relationship with respect to this issue or others. In fact, should the MJB be required to or choose to negotiate its policy with respect to IFP transcripts, the parties will have the benefit of information from the pilot program with which to negotiate.”
Bernhardson also finds that the union failed to meet its Dahlberg burden of demonstrating that it likely would prevail on the case’s merits. The Judicial Branch has the stronger position on that question, she finds. Still, the judge adds:
“The question is a close one, however, and there is room for disagreement on the issue.”
The Dahlberg factors also asks courts to determine if public policy considerations favor an injunction. Here, the judge writes, the facts cut for the Judicial Branch. She writes:
“In this case, the MJB also has a compelling public policy interest in ensuring public trust and confidence in its prudent stewardship of public funds provided by taxpayers.”
One Dahlberg factor clearly favors the union, the judge writes, because an injunction would be simple and not cause any administrative burdens on the court.
But on balance, Bernhardson rules, temporary injunction relief “is not needed to prevent great and irreparable injury.”
The union plans a 3 p.m. press conference today over Zoom to address the matter. In a press release, it says the injunction request was “the first of many union tactics, including but not limited to a work stoppage,” to halt or end the pilot program until collective bargaining can remedy court reporters’ income loss.
During the last pre-pandemic fiscal year of 2019, a total of $164,000 in extra income was earned by 172 court reporters for IFP transcriptions, according to one estimate. That equated to an average of about $953 each in additional pay.