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Deputies Step Up Sickout Efforts Over Stalled Talks

About 200 call in with 'blue flu,' disrupting jail operations and delaying court appearances.

September 26, 2003|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

In the latest escalation of a week of "blue flu," 200 sheriff's deputies unhappy with contract negotiations called in sick Thursday at downtown Los Angeles County jail facilities, disrupting operations and causing cancellation of a regularly scheduled visitation day.

The sickout, which began on the night shift Wednesday, targeted Twin Towers jail, the Men's Central jail and the downtown Inmate Reception Center, which together house 11,500 inmates.

In all, 100 deputies stayed out on morning shift Thursday. An additional 110 deputies called in sick on the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift.

Similar work slowdowns were staged in March and April. This week, it was the fourth day that the department had been hit with a rolling sickout, which disrupted court transportation for two days. On Tuesday, officers with the Los Angeles Police Department were forced to cut back on patrols so they could fill in for deputies who refused to work and who would have taken inmates to court.

Inmates were placed in a partial lockdown Thursday. The sickout forced cancellation of programs such as educational classes. Some parole hearings were delayed.

Sheriff's Capt. John Vander Horck said 1,200 to 1,400 inmates had been bused to court as usual, but there had been some delays. "It has had an impact, but we're going to get through this," Vander Horck said. "Things are moving slower, but it has not jeopardized security."

Department officials dealt with the deputy shortage by shifting personnel from the North County Pitchess Detention Center and by keeping some deputies on double shifts.

Deputies are in contract negotiations with Los Angeles County. The union declared an impasse and is in mediation on pay after the contract expired in January, said Roy Burns, president of the 8,500-member Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. The contract dealing with benefits and retirement expires Tuesday, Sept. 30.

"The deputies have shown good faith and they have been patient for almost a year now as the state and the county figure out the budget," Burns said. "The deputies have reached the point where they are frustrated and want to let the Board of Supervisors know the level of their frustration."

Part of the frustration, Burns said, was that other state and local police agencies have received raises and benefits despite the economic times, leading some Los Angeles County deputies to leave the department. Burns cited the recent contract agreement by the LAPD for a 9% pay raise over three years, plus supplemental health care benefits.

Sheriff's commanders did not say whether any legal action was planned. But Burns said he would not be surprised if the deputies were eventually targeted.

Deputies don't want to take the next step with a sickout at the patrol stations, but they may have to if no progress is made, said one deputy who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Somebody has to make some noise, because no one is listening."

Times staff writer Anna Gorman contributed to this report.

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