O.C. deputies accuse county of bad faith

Times Staff Writer

Orange County sheriff’s deputies have filed a lawsuit accusing the county of “bad-faith bargaining” in contract negotiations that have been stalled nearly a year, officials said Friday.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Superior Court by the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, alleges that the county’s Board of Supervisors is guilty of “withdrawing its original wage offer and replacing it with one that is significantly worse . . . reneging on an agreement regarding the cost of retiree medical costs . . . insisting on contract demands that will foreseeably make agreement . . . impossible and failing to vest its negotiator with authority to reach agreement.”

“We’ve been at an impasse for a while and have reached a level of frustration with no end in sight,” said Mark Nichols, general manager of the 1,800-member deputies union.

“We’re just not going to have an equitable resolution, so we’re asking the courts to have the county comply with bargaining in good faith.”

Board Chairman Chris Norby said he was surprised by the lawsuit. “I think it’s grandstanding on their part,” he said.


“They say that we’ve taken certain things off the table, but what we offered them they rejected in the first place. It’s a curious lawsuit; the courts aren’t going to resolve this; we have to resolve it by sitting down.”

Though neither side would provide details, both said they were far from agreement on a variety of issues, including wages, retiree healthcare and auditing a medical trust fund that the union controls.

The deputies, who’ve been working without a contract since last October, currently earn a starting wage of $70,000 to $75,000 a year, county Chief Executive Tom Mauk said.

“We’re trying to work it out with the deputies and they’re trying to work it out with us,” he said.

“We’ve made progress, but we’re not close to a conclusion at all; there’s a long way to go.”

The lawsuit comes during a bitter dispute over pension benefits.

In July, Supervisor John Moorlach unveiled a proposal to shrink what he said was an overly generous retirement plan for deputies and other law enforcement investigators.

The supervisors subsequently voted to consider suing to invalidate portions of a 2001 agreement with the deputies that retroactively increased their retirement pay at age 50.

Earlier this month, a legal opinion solicited by the board cast doubt on whether the county could prevail in whittling down those pensions.

But supervisors nonetheless hired a law firm to represent them in the effort. And union officials have said they would respond with a legal challenge of their own.

The lawsuit filed this week, according to both sides, will not resolve that dispute.

“It expresses the concern of the deputies,” Mauk said, “but I think both parties still want to reach an agreement. We have an impasse and we have some problems, but I think the board wants it solved and the deputies want it solved.” After all, he said, “They’re our employees.”