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Deputies Out Sick Losing Some Pay

October 16, 2003|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Following through on threats to discipline participants in a four-week "blue flu," Los Angeles County sheriff's officials began docking the pay of deputies for past work slowdowns and moved to suspend scores of others who participated in the sickout Wednesday.

In the largest work slowdown this year, nearly 550 deputies called in sick Wednesday, delaying operations at six county jails, the majority of them downtown, as well as five courthouses -- Burbank, Beverly Hills, Inglewood, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles.

Two patrol stations -- Walnut and San Dimas -- reported absences but were not seriously affected.

Sheriff Lee Baca, who has been criticized in some quarters for not taking more aggressive action against what he has called an illegal work slowdown, said that while he understands the frustration of his deputies, he means business for those who defy policy and the law.

"We're not playing a game here," Baca said. "I'm going to hold them accountable.... People were told far in advance of the consequences, and they are choosing to be punished, as I see it."

Attorneys for Los Angeles County are expected to ask an Orange County judge this morning to fine the deputies union and about 10 individual deputies for violating the court order.

"This is just the first group," said Assistant County Counsel David Kelsey.

Deputies who engaged in the wildcat strike Wednesday could also be suspended for up to five days for an unexcused absence under new rules approved last week by the county Board of Supervisors, said Assistant Sheriff Doyle Campbell.

The length of the suspensions, which sheriff's officials said would be decided within days, will depend on several factors, including participation in previous work slowdowns.

The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs would not comment.

But one deputy said the county had already moved to withhold eight hours of pay, amounting to an average of $260, for deputies who joined in sickouts Sept. 30 and Oct 1.

"We're angry because we had justified doctors' notes for our absences," said the deputy, who asked not be identified.

"According to our contract, if we have a justified doctor's note, it's a viable reason for absence."

Campbell confirmed that some deputies were docked pay for unauthorized absences in previous weeks. Any grievances will be resolved through normal disciplinary procedures, Campbell said.

The average pay for a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy is $71,100, including medical and retirement benefits. Deputies have been working without a wage contract since January.

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