Orange County sheriff's deputies, protesting stalled labor negotiations, staged a work slowdown Tuesday aimed at clogging the court system.
About 100 deputies in the department's transportation division followed detailed, by-the-book procedures in processing and shuttling prisoners between jail and the courts, said Robert J. MacLeod, general manager of the 1,100-member Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.
The deputies, for example, are conducting more frequent inmate searches than usual in an effort to slow the court system, MacLeod said. "They're going to be searching and handcuffing inmates just as the rules say," he said, adding that deputies regularly take shortcuts around the rules to get inmates to court on time.
The action, which did not involve patrol deputies, posed no threat to public safety, spokesmen for the Sheriff's Department and the deputies' union said.
No Talks Scheduled
Union negotiators walked out of a mediation session Monday evening after rejecting a county offer of a 12.5% salary increase over three years and several improvements in premium pay, said John Sibley, director of employee relations and the county's lead negotiator. No new talks are scheduled.
The county's offer of a deferred pay raise was unacceptable, MacLeod said, "because the first raise would only be one-half percent after eight months."
The deputies' previous contract expired July 3. Deputies' maximum monthly salaries range from $2,824 to $2,913, MacLeod said. The maximum for a sergeant is $3,702.
MacLeod said the work slowdown could continue for several days. If the county has not responded, he said, deputies might begin picketing or stage a sickout.
Dozens of sheriff's deputies stayed away from work in two sickouts at branch jails last year during contract talks.
The county, facing one of its tightest budgets in years, has insisted that no money is available to pay salary increases for any of its employees.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on and will probably approve a $1.7-billion budget later this month, according to County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish. About 100 county jobs are expected to be lost, and as many as 45 people may face layoffs.
The union says that the money is available for raises but that the board has other spending priorities.
In all, there are eight unions representing 12,000 of the county's 14,000 employees whose members have been working without contracts since July 3. Representatives of two of those unions met Tuesday with county negotiators.
"We just made absolutely no progress," said Fred Lowe of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 565 county employees. "We hope to shake something loose with a job action."
Predicts Job Action
Lowe said no new mediation session with the county is scheduled, and he declined to say when any job action would occur or what it might entail. But "it will be soon," he said. "The county will know when it happens."
John Sawyer, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., which represents about 10,000 county employees, said that Tuesday's talks with the county were "unproductive" but that a new session was set for Thursday.
The American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees, representing 530 county workers, is scheduled to meet with the county today.
Under California law, county employees have the right to strike except where that action could endanger the safety or health of the public, Sibley said.
Most of the county's courts reported delays in getting inmates before judges as a result of the deputies' job action, but officials said the work slowdown posed minor problems at worst.
"The inmates were a little late getting started," said Richard Biggins, court administrator in Westminster. "As long as it is not a continuing thing, we won't have problems for just one day."
Buses shuttling 377 inmates to the county's six courthouses Tuesday morning were running from half an hour to three hours late, Sheriff's Department spokesman Lt. Richard J. Olson said.
Concerned With Order
Olson said the sheriff's major concern was returning the inmates to jail "in a timely manner" so as not to violate a 1978 federal court order requiring that all inmates be afforded at least eight hours of sleep, among other conditions.
"We're concerned about meeting that order," Olson said. "We need to have those inmates back to jail, processed, fed and a bed ready by 9 p.m." As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday no inmates had returned from the courts to the jail, he said.
Richard Herman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed several lawsuits challenging jail conditions, said the county appears not to be complying with the 1978 court order. "As a result of going over to court and coming back to jail late, people aren't getting eight hours' sleep," he said.
If the slowdown continues for more than a few days, Herman said, his office might take some legal action. But he said he would not act immediately. "My position is not to take advantage of such situations," he said.