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16 Deputies Assigned to Jails Call in Sick : Sickout Is 2nd Job Action Protesting County’s Contract Offer

Times Staff Writer

In a protest over contract negotiations that have been stalled for two weeks, 16 sheriff’s deputies assigned to work at Orange County’s two minimum security jails called in sick on Wednesday.

The so-called “sickout” was the second job action taken in less than a week by the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, which staged this protest and one last Thursday to “send a message to the county” that deputies are unified in their rejection of the county’s last contract offer.

Three-fourths of the deputies scheduled to patrol north and south county areas last Thursday evening called in sick. Deputies already at work stayed extra hours, and nine investigators worked overtime to compensate for the absences.

The 800-member union announced in May that negotiations had reached an impasse. The county made what it called its final offer on June 9 for a two-year contract. The deputies’ current contract expires next Thursday.

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As they had stressed last Thursday, spokesmen for the union and Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday that the safety of the public as well as inmates and deputies was not jeopardized by the second “sickout.” Both the Theo Lacy and James A. Musick branch jails were fully staffed, Sheriff’s Lt. Dick Olson said.

Robert J. MacLeod, the union’s general manager, would not comment Wednesday on whether other job actions were scheduled for today. He has said the union wants to avoid an all-out work stoppage. County officials have said they believe a strike would be illegal.

Sixteen deputies scheduled to work day shifts Wednesday at the Theo Lacy facility in Orange and the Musick jail in the El Toro area called in sick, Olson and MacLeod said. A total of 39 deputies were to work that day, Olson added.

Because many of those 39 employees are sergeants, non-sworn officers or deputies who were already working scheduled overtime shifts, MacLeod said, only 17 deputies were asked to participate in the staged sickout.

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Olson said deputies who had already worked overnight shifts were held over extra hours Wednesday. Others were called in “who were on their days off. . . . There was no compromise in the safety of prisoners or citizens,” Olson said.

“Our patrol deputies made it clear last week that they are not going to accept (the county’s contract) offer,” MacLeod said.

“It didn’t seem to make any difference to the county. So we wanted to correct that mistaken impression . . . by showing them that deputies working in the jails won’t accept it either,” MacLeod said.

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But John Sibley, the county’s director of employee relations, said: “We’re not opposed to going back to the bargaining table . . . but as far as giving more (money or benefits), no. We won’t . . . and we don’t want to give them the perception (that we will).”

Along with sheriff’s deputies, investigators with the district attorney’s office are covered by the same contract. However, they have not taken job actions to date, MacLeod said.

The union is seeking a two-year package that would give represented personnel in both agencies a 5.75% salary increase in each of the contract’s two years. The county has offered a 4.75% salary increase for the first year and a 4% increase the second year--the same percentages that other county employees have been given.

MacLeod said union members might be willing to accept less than the 5.75% increase but want more than the county has offered.

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Union members are also seeking better insurance and retirement benefits and extra pay for deputies working on helicopter crews to compensate them for their added skills and risk.

Sibley has said the county believes that deputies currently have a fair benefits package and that premium pay is typically awarded for jobs that are hard to fill. There has been no shortage of volunteers for helicopter units, he said.

The Board of Supervisors has final approval of county workers’ employment contracts.


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