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Probation Workers Stage Walkout to Protest Staffing, Compensation

Times Staff Writer

Almost a thousand Los Angeles County probation officers didn’t show up for work Tuesday to protest what they say are dangerous working conditions, inadequate staffing and compensation that falls short of what other counties pay.

Instead, workers wearing dark green T-shirts emblazoned with their union’s logo demonstrated in front of the county’s administration building and then packed the Board of Supervisors meeting to demand that the county return to the bargaining table.

The union representing about 4,000 Probation Department employees has been negotiating a new contract with the county for three years. County negotiators declared an impasse in June, and a state mediator has been trying to restart talks.

“We have more and more duties, and fewer and fewer officers to perform those duties,” Ralph Miller, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 685, told the supervisors. “This must end and must end immediately.”

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About 500 probation workers cheered, jumped out of their seats, and applauded Miller and other employee representatives as they testified before supervisors.

County officials acknowledged the workers’ frustrations and their long-running concerns with the department, but did not discuss their grievances.

“There are issues that must be addressed at the bargaining table,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina. “We will see what we can do.”

The union sued the county, the Probation Department and Chief Probation Officer Paul Higa in Superior Court on Monday, claiming the department routinely fails to meet state-mandated staffing requirements at its juvenile halls and camps.

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The lawsuit alleges that the county’s failure to meet minimum staffing ratios has led to more assaults in those facilities and it asks the court to order the county to comply with the ratios.

Higa said assaults in the county’s juvenile facilities have increased because of a jump in the number of youths with suicidal tendencies or other mental health issues.

He added that his department is struggling to train staff to provide services at the county’s three juvenile halls mandated under a 2004 agreement with the federal Department of Justice.

Those include providing gender-specific and special education services as well as mental health screening.

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“We have a mutual concern about, No. 1, the safety of kids, and the safety of staff,” said Higa, who added that he hadn’t read the union’s lawsuit. “We need to do everything we can to improve both of those conditions.”

Tuesday’s work action did not cause problems at the county’s juvenile halls and camps or at the courts, officials said. Three-quarters of the 384 staff members who were scheduled to supervise juveniles in the three halls and 19 camps did not come in to work at 6 a.m. Probation officers from field offices were brought in to cover for the missing workers.

About 65% of the 1,102 workers in the county’s field offices called in sick Tuesday, forcing managers to reschedule many appointments with probationers.

The employees are expected to return to work today.

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At a rally early Tuesday in front of the county’s administration building, probation officers said their supervisors had threatened to dock their pay if they failed to come to work. But they said they attended the protest because they’re tired of receiving subpar wages and retirement benefits while putting their lives at risk.

Some at the demonstration said they had been attacked while transporting repeat juvenile offenders. Others said they had been shot at -- while armed only with pepper spray and a cellphone -- while trying to visit probationers.

“They want us to go out and do proactive probation work, but they don’t want to compensate us properly for the risks we’re taking,” said Aldin Tatley, who works with a unit of armed probation officers that checks on violent gang members in Lancaster, Palmdale and Altadena. “I have two kids. I want to go home at night.”


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