Court Gives Santa Ana an Injunction to Block Police Strikes, Sickouts
Santa Ana won a preliminary injunction Monday to block police officers, with whom the city is engaged in tough contract negotiations, from striking or calling in sick when they are not ill.
More than 250 uniformed officers, answering individual summonses served by the city, jammed a courtroom in Orange County Superior Court and an adjoining hall for the hourlong hearing. Police supervisors were forced to drive patrol cars for about half an hour to replace 22 patrol officers who left their scheduled shifts to appear in court, said Sgt. Don Blankenship, president of the Police Benevolent Assn.
City Manager David Ream said just 19 officers had left their patrol shifts. The city dropped its summonses against those officers at the beginning of the hearing Monday morning so they could return to work.
Time in Court
Some traffic and motorcycle officers, investigators and non-sworn communications workers who were scheduled to be on the job also spent part of the morning in court, Blankenship said.
The city obtained a temporary restraining order July 9 with provisions similar to those in Monday’s injunction after most of the officers scheduled to work a graveyard shift said they were too ill. Officials of the Police Benevolent Assn., which represents the city’s 337 sworn officers and 113 non-sworn personnel, advised its members of the court order, but the blue flu epidemic continued for two more shifts.
Seth Kelsey, attorney for the association, argued that the injunction was unnecessary because the “expression of solidarity” had not compromised public safety and because association officials had already agreed not to repeat it.
But Superior Court Commissioner Ronald L. Bauer noted that Santa Ana Police Chief Eugene Hansen had said that continued sickouts might have endangered both the public and police officers if officers were forced to work too much overtime.
“The courts must determine whether the public interest overrides the basic right to strike,” he said, citing a state Supreme Court ruling saying that in the case of law enforcement officers, “the absence from their duties . . . would clearly endanger public safety.”
Blankenship predicted that the injunction would have a “chilling effect” on the police officers’ contract talks with the city. “It’s a hammer they have over us,” he said. “It gives the city the power of the court behind it.”
The police officers’ contract with the city expired June 30, and negotiations for a new contract have stalled. The city has offered pay increases of 4.5% this year and 4% next year, but the association wants immediate raises of 11.9% for officers and 24.9% for sergeants, which would bring their salaries in line with those in Irvine, currently the highest-paying police department in the county.
Santa Ana officers now earn $2,463 to $2,995 a month.