Orange county negotiators blinked first Tuesday evening in the ongoing labor dispute with the sheriff's deputies.
The county stepped in with a new wage offer for the deputies just hours before the union was prepared to announce a one-day walkout of its 1,100 members, beginning this morning.
The walkout was called off late Tuesday after the deputies assigned to guard the jails and patrol unincorporated areas on today's morning shift had already been told not to report to work.
The two sides started meeting again about 7 p.m. to discuss the new offer, which union officials declined to disclose.
Robert MacLeod, general manager of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, stressed that the new offer is not an agreement that has been approved by the union leadership. But, he said, it is likely that the union would have to outline the offer in another meeting of its members before it orders a major job action.
"We had plans to implement a major job action effective tomorrow," MacLeod said Tuesday. "Then the county called us and said they had increased the offer."
County officials were not available late Tuesday.
Action Considered Illegal
John Sibley, county director of employee relations, has said, however, that officials consider a walkout by the deputies to be illegal. He said the county would immediately seek a court order to stop any deputies' action that threatens public safety.
Although as many as five other Orange County employee groups have talked about joining the deputies if they decide to walk out, it was uncertain whether any had planned to join in today's job action. The other groups include the firefighters, court marshals, welfare clerks and heavy machinery crews.
Fred Lowe, director of the Service Employees International Union, said late Tuesday he could not comment on the plans of other groups. But he added that it was possible some groups might join the deputies if they were to walk out today.
The six unions, including the deputies, have a joint meeting scheduled for Friday.
County officials have insisted for weeks that they are prepared to protect the public in the event of a walkout by deputies. But officials from the state Department of Corrections and the governor's office said as late as Monday that they have not received a request for backup personnel from Orange County.
In 1981, when the San Diego County sheriff's deputies staged a 10-day walkout, state corrections officers were called in to guard the jails.
Mechanics from the county's Katella Public Works Yard reported to their union leaders Tuesday that they had been asked to drive the sheriff's buses today so that prisoners could be transported to court.
Lowe said his group had protested the request because the mechanics are not trained to replace law enforcement officers.
"All I can say is that we are going to do everything we can to make sure that our people are not going to be undermining what the sheriffs are doing," Lowe said.
MacLeod said the county has contacted all of the local police departments in Orange County and asked their officers to respond to emergency calls in the county's unincorporated areas. However, calls such as minor traffic accidents and burglaries that are not in progress would not be handled until a job action is over, MacLeod said.
The deputies have been threatening to walk out since they ended an eight-day work slowdown Aug. 27 that had clogged the county's criminal courts system.
The two sides have met twice since the slowdown, but both times the union membership angrily rejected the county wage offers and enthusiastically supported a walkout.
In a membership meeting last week to discuss the county's latest offer, several deputies complained that the union leadership had already waited too long to call a walkout, either in the form of a strike, sickout or mass resignation.
The last talks ended with three contract proposals on the table, two that would last 27 months and another a year.
Under the one-year plan, the county has offered a 2.5% raise in April and the union has demanded 6% retroactive to July.
The most significant difference in the two longer-term contracts is in the first year.
Deputies currently earn between $2,220 and $2,983 per month.
The union has requested 4.25% retroactive to July with increases of 6% in July, 2% in January, 1989, and 4.5% in July, 1989. They have also asked that the union be allowed to purchase its own medical benefits plan, possibly eliminating a $90 monthly payment required of deputies under the county's plan.
One county plan includes a $1,000 lump sum payment in January with increases of 6% in September, 1988, 3.8% in January, 1989, and 3.7% in July, 1989. Under this plan the county would keep control of the medical plan.
The other plan includes raises of 3.5% in April, 3% in July, 3% in January, 1989, and 3% in July, 1989. The deputies' union would purchase the medical plan under this offer.