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Dozens of Sheriff's Deputies Call In Sick in Wage Dispute

Labor: Union says at least 65 officers, who have been without a contract for eight months, did not report for work. The absences delay the transportation of some inmates to courthouses.

September 11, 1997|TINA DAUNT and JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Dozens of Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies assigned to transport prisoners and guard courthouses throughout the county phoned in sick Wednesday, slowing daily operations and forcing the department to call for backup.

Union officials estimate that at least 65 deputies did not report to work, apparently in an effort to pressure county officials to meet workers' demands in a long-simmering labor dispute. Deputies, who have been working for eight months without a contract, are seeking a 5% raise. County officials have offered 1.5%.

"I woke up this morning and found out that everyone at Compton Court had called in sick," said Doug McLellan, vice president of the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. "We understand their frustration. We support our deputies."

He then said: "We hope they get better."

At the Compton courthouse, which houses Municipal and Superior courts, and the Lynwood Regional Justice Center, which includes another unit of the Municipal Court, 45 deputies failed to report for duty Wednesday morning, said Sgt. Ray Rosenbauer, a supervisor at the Sheriff's Department office in Compton.

That left no one to transport prisoners to trials or hearings, which forced jurors, witnesses and family members to wait while court administrators decided which cases would get priority. David R. Traum, the deputy district attorney in charge of the Compton branch, said perhaps half a dozen prisoners awaiting preliminary hearings would have to be released if the court failed to locate deputies and hold the hearings. No prisoners were released Wednesday, a district attorney's office spokeswoman said.

In Van Nuys, 39 defendants were delayed about three hours getting to court because of the slowdown in transportation from Men's Central Jail, according to Lt. Ed Dvorak.

Sheriff's officials called in replacements from the Criminal Courts building in downtown Los Angeles, as well as deputies from the sheriff's warrants detail and other units to fill in for the missing deputies.

"You've lost a day of court time, and inconvenienced jurors and witnesses," Traum said. "Hopefully, it's just a one-day thing. If this becomes a protracted issue, it could become problematic. We don't want some potentially dangerous offender being released."

But McLellan predicted the job actions would continue.

"We have been three years without a pay raise," he said.

The Sheriff's Department, meanwhile, is requiring that deputies bring in doctors' notes if they want to claim sick time.

"If people call in sick when they in fact are not sick, the department policy requires them to bring in proof of their illnesses when they return to work," said Sheriff Sherman Block. "For those individuals who engage in any activity that impedes the efficient operation of the department, it is the responsibility of their supervisors to take prompt personnel action to ensure that efficiency is restored.

"The executive staff of the department is very supportive of our personnel's need for a salary increase. They deserve it; they're entitled to it. But at the same time, there is a certain level of professionalism these people are expected to adhere to."

County officials negotiating the new contract declined to discuss the deputies' work action.

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