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More than 200 L.A. County sheriff’s employees quarantined since coronavirus outbreak

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva requested that the county’s chief executive secure regular pay for quarantined employees.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

Since last month, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has sent 209 employees home to quarantine because of exposure to the coronavirus, and issues over their pay have caused another squabble between Sheriff Alex Villanueva and county leaders.

In a letter Wednesday, Villanueva requested that Supervisor Kathryn Barger secure retroactive pay for quarantined employees who he said have had to dip into their personal sick leave prior to Wednesday, when federal benefits for workers impacted by the virus took effect.

Villanueva said there was at least one employee exposed to the virus on patrol who had not accrued enough sick time to stay compensated through the quarantine period. It’s unclear if that person lost out on any pay, and if so, how much.

“The first responders from the Sheriff’s Department sacrifice their lives for the residents of Los Angeles County every day,” he wrote in the letter to Barger, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. “The least we can do is fully compensate these men and women for their daily sacrifices by covering their COVID-19 related absence from work.”

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The county’s chief executive, Sachi Hamai, fired back, saying that Villanueva continues to bring issues to the media “with the sole purpose of picking a political fight.” She suggested that the authority to put employees on paid administrative leave lies with the sheriff.

“The Sheriff is responsible for his own decisions if he ordered employees to be placed on home leave,” Hamai said in the statement.

In a written response Thursday, Barger said the federal benefits for workers exposed to COVID-19 are not retroactive and neither the board nor Hamai has the power to bend the rules. She said Villanueva did not need approval to compensate the employees he ordered to stay home before the federal benefits kicked in.

“You have the authority to approve appropriate compensation for these employees,” she wrote.

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The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs sent an email to its membership this week, saying the Sheriff’s Department should use its own funds to compensate deputies retroactively and calling the adoption of federal benefits the “bare minimum” that is “a slap in the face to deputies who are risking their lives.”

Ron Hernandez, president of the union, said Villanueva is working to resolve the matter but has not provided details.

The union also said that the department has not provided sufficient masks or sanitizer to its members.

The conflict comes after the board this week voted unanimously to put Hamai in charge of disaster preparedness and response. In doing so, the board removed Villanueva as head of the emergency operations center.

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That action led Villanueva to cancel the regular news briefings he had been hosting at the center multiple times a week. And it has once again highlighted the long-running power struggle between board members and the sheriff, who have clashed over a variety of issues, including hiring and spending, since Villanueva took office in December 2018.

As of Thursday, 10 Sheriff’s Department employees had tested positive for COVID-19.


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