Claiming that intolerable conditions at Orange County Jail pose a threat to the lives of sheriff's deputies working there, the union representing those officers said Wednesday that it is considering job actions as a way to force the county to institute changes.
In a ballot mailed to its 800 members, the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs is asking for authorization "to call for job actions against the county, when and if necessary."
Depending on the response, "We could begin some type of action very quickly," Robert J. MacLeod, association general manager, said Wednesday.
'Strike Is Possible' "Some might view it as a strike, but it would probably be something less than that," MacLeod said. "While a strike is possible, I don't think that would happen on any kind of immediate basis."
A strike, if one were to occur, would apparently be in violation of the union's contract with the county, which does not expire until July, 1986.
Foremost among the union's demands, according to MacLeod, is a change in the work schedules that would help alleviate current staffing shortages in the overcrowded facility and reduce the stress on deputies assigned there.
There are about 110 deputies assigned to three shifts at the jail, where on Tuesday, the union said, 2,067 inmates were being housed in space originally designed for 1,200.
Four deputies accompanying union officials Wednesday said the overcrowding and understaffing are creating a situation where controlling the inmate population is becoming increasingly difficult. They also said the working conditions are leading to a high turnover rate among deputies assigned to the jail. In one month last year, they said, 18 jail officers quit the department.
"They're leaving almost faster than they can be replaced," said one deputy who asked not to be identified.
"If they don't change things, they're going to have some guy killed, and that guy is going to be wearing a badge," said another deputy who also asked not to be identified.
During contract negotiations last summer, the union sought to have the deputies placed on 12-hour shifts with their schedules alternating between four days on and three off the first week, then three on and four off the next.
A committee that studied the proposal for the Board of Supervisors recommended against the plan, although the union contended this week that the recommendation was based on inaccurate data supplied by the county administrative office and the Sheriff's Department.
"This obvious attempt to mislead us and the Board of Supervisors revealed that the study by the CAO and the sheriff's administrative representatives is a sham," the union said in a bulletin sent to members along with the job-action ballot.
The union officials also claimed Wednesday that the deputies in the women's jail are no longer allowed to bring their own lunches to work. Such a change in working conditions must be negotiated with the union, they said, and by not doing so, the county has violated state law.
Union members have two choices on the ballots they are to return by Feb 1. They can authorize job actions or they can vote to "honor our contract despite the county's actions."
"Clearly job actions now would have the advantage of pointing out our displeasure in an immediate and dramatic way," the union bulletin said. However, it added, "We are in the middle of a contract that our membership voted to accept. We agreed to be bound by . . . that contract until July 3, 1986."
MacLeod said Wednesday that it was not the union's purpose to have a job action, "but to be dealt with fairly and have the needs of the jail personnel met. I don't care what kind of title you give it--reopening negotiations or a fireside chat. It could begin and be concluded in one day without any problems at all."