Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Courts, County Brace for Resumption of Deputy Sickout
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
After a quiet day Friday and a holiday yesterday, court and county officials were bracing for a possible resumption of a sheriff’s deputy sickout today as a judge in Orange County decides whether to make an order blocking the sickout permanent.
Lawyers for Los Angeles County and the deputies’ union are to appear again today before Orange Superior Court Judge John Watson, who declined Friday to issue a temporary restraining order sought by the union. The order would have prevented the county from implementing emergency measures adopted Wednesday to deal with the sickout, which has continued intermittently in the face of a TRO Watson issued Oct. 1.
The Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to authorize suspensions and the docking of deputies’ pay for absenteeism. Watson rejected a request from the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs to block those measures Friday.
But the judge said he would reconsider the issue today at a hearing on the county’s request for a preliminary injunction which would replace the Oct. 1 TRO. He ordered the county’s lawyers to report to him at the hearing on any actions taken under the emergency measures.
Assistant County Counsel David Kelsey said yesterday the county would provide that information at today’s hearing. Kelsey said he expects the judge either to grant the preliminary injunction requested by the county—the terms of which are identical to those of the TRO already in force—or to dissolve the TRO.
In a memo to the supervisors Friday, county Chief Administrative Officer David E. Janssen reported “rumors” that the Sheriff’s Department would “experience the most significant work action to date” during the shortened work week following yesterday’s Columbus Day holiday.
“The Department is strategizing and developing contingency plans to deal with work actions of this magnitude,” Janssen’s memo declared.
ALADS offices were closed for the holiday yesterday and union officials could not be reached for comment.
Citing provisions of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act—the statute governing local government labor relations—which permit suspension of the law’s “meet-and-confer” requirements in emergencies, the board Wednesday found an emergency existed. Supervisors authorized Sheriff Lee Baca to make temporary reassignments as required to cope with the job action.
If absenteeism due to the job action in any deputies’ unit reaches 20 percent, the emergency resolution permits Baca to dock the pay of absent deputies and suspend them without advance notice for up to five days.
The resolution did not explain how absences due to the sickout would be distinguished from other absences.
Kelsey said Friday that no suspensions have been ordered under the resolution.
Union attorney Elizabeth Gibbons of Green & Shinee said suspensions are normally subject to the standard grievance procedure, which can take up to two months.
The TRO currently in force bars union leaders from encouraging or influencing deputies to skip work. Union leaders found in violation of the order can be held in criminal contempt.
At Friday’s hearing, Gibbons objected to the fact that the order also names up to 7,000 “doe” deputies.
“What they have done is...[given] every deputy a `doe’ number and they have been served with a copy of the order,” Gibbons said.
Instead of exposing all deputies to possible contempt proceedings, only those who may have called in sick should have been included, a much smaller number, she said.
Kelsey told Watson suspending deputies, rather than subjecting them to criminal contempt, is a “less intrusive, more efficient” way to deal with the problem.
Criminal contempt “has huge career consequences” for deputies because they can be discharged if they violate court contempt orders, he said.
The union’s pay contract expired Jan. 31 and its fringe benefits contract expired Sept. 30. Union leaders have characterized negotiations as stalled.
ALADS has disclaimed any responsibility for organizing or coordinating the sickout, and have attributed the sick calls to employee frustration.
The impact of the sickout on the courts has been intermittent since it began in late September, reaching a high point on Sept. 30, when 224 courtroom deputies called in sick, and Oct. 1, when the number reached 320. About 920 deputies are assigned to the court services unit.
Five courthouses were unable to open on Oct. 1, and the opening of two others was delayed. The sickout has caused brief delays at various courthouses on several other days.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company