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Baca Gets Some Ammo in Fight on Deputy Sickout

Supervisors let sheriff suspend offending officers without pay as a department blue flu campaign spreads.

October 09, 2003|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Calling wildcat sickouts illegal, Los Angeles County supervisors gave Sheriff Lee Baca a legal green light Wednesday to summarily suspend most deputies who call in sick.

The action was taken on a day that 222 more deputies called in with the blue flu, leaving at least one South Los Angeles sheriff's station with no day shift. That number is 3% of the total work force, but represents a considerably larger proportion of those on duty at any one time.

Supervisors said the rolling sickouts, already enjoined by a judge, threatened public safety. Deputies make as much as $70,000 annually and are seeking 3% raises.

The board decision, reached unanimously in closed session, gives Baca the power to dock the pay of any deputy engaged in strike activity or who calls in sick when more than 20% of the deputies in a given unit also claim illness.

Management also was given broad powers to temporarily reassign personnel and, when warranted, to reprimand or suspend for as long as five days deputies who engage in any illegal job action.

A judge has ordered that the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs and all deputies halt a series of sickouts that have hit more than a dozen sheriff's stations, the courts and the jail system.

Baca vowed on Tuesday to suspend any deputies who are absent without proof of illness. Baca called the sickouts "blatantly illegal" and said deputies cannot break the law in seeking pay hikes.

A spokesman for the sheriff's union did not have a comment on the supervisor's vote.

Deputies called in sick Wednesday at seven patrol stations: East Los Angeles, Lomita, Carson, Lennox, Century, Marina Del Rey and Compton. The gaps were plugged by the reassignment of deputies from other patrol divisions and from the Custody/Correctional Services Division.

The action is the latest salvo in a sometimes bitter contract dispute between Los Angeles County and sheriff's deputies. The 8,500-member union declared an impasse and is in mediation on pay. Deputies' contract expired in January.

Union officials say that other state and local police agencies have received raises and benefits despite hard economic times. They cited a recent contract agreement giving Los Angeles police officers a 9% pay raise over three years, plus supplemental health care.

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