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Boycott if You Must but Get OK, County Tells Employees

Personnel officials warn workers that they will be disciplined if they don't get permission to skip work for the May 1 immigration protest.

April 21, 2006|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County employees are being warned that they must obtain prior approval to participate in a May 1 nationwide boycott being organized by immigrant rights groups or face possible disciplinary action.

"While we respect employees' free speech rights, it is important that we be able to maintain public services," read a memo sent this week to human resources administrators in all county departments. "Any employee who is absent on May 1, 2006, without prior approval may be considered Absent Without Pay (AWOP) and subject to disciplinary action."

Some administrators sent the memo directly to their employees, while others are communicating the message in different ways, said Jim Adams, division chief of employee relations for the county Chief Administrative Office.

Adams said employees can participate in the May 1 events -- which will include marches and rallies -- but they should do so "on their own time." The county would try to grant vacation time to employees who want to take part, he said, provided that the absences do not disrupt public services. An employee who calls in sick must present a doctor's note.

Adams said that he wrote the memo so administrators could plan ahead and employees would know their rights and responsibilities. Discipline for not showing up for work could include docked pay, a warning or suspension, he said.

"We have a mission to accomplish," Adams said. "Their first obligation is to their employer."

The city of Los Angeles also plans to remind personnel directors about policies on unauthorized absences in preparation for May 1, said Royce Menkus, assistant administrator of the city's Employee Relations Division.

The city requires prior approval for vacation, as well as documentation for sick time, Menkus said.

As the U.S. Senate debates new immigration restrictions, immigrant rights groups are calling for a May 1 boycott of work, school and consumer activity to demonstrate immigrants' economic power.

Bart Diener, assistant general manager of Service Employees International Union Local 660, said the county workers' union is encouraging its members to participate in the events but is advising them to get approval from their bosses. Diener said he planned to monitor whether managers are reasonable in honoring requests for time off.

County Supervisor Gloria Molina said she doesn't believe the memo discouraged employees from participating, it just informed them of their duties.

"If you participate in this boycott ... there are consequences," she said. "It isn't a free day off. You have to take a vacation day and you have to get prior approval."

Some employees, however, have had a different reaction to the warning -- which referred to the May 1 event as a "general strike."

"A lot of people here were planning to participate, but this has put them ill at ease," said a 15-year veteran of the Department of Child Support Services who asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation. "I think it's unfair to scare people with the word 'strike.' If their intent was to intimidate people, it worked."

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Times staff writer Sam Quinones contributed to this report.

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