Calif. deputies’ sick-out closes courthouses

Calif. deputies' sick-out closes courthouses

By Oula Miqbel Lodi News-Sentinel, Calif.

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, Calif. — San Joaquin County courthouses in Stockton, Manteca and French Camp were closed to the public on Tuesday morning after deputy sheriffs who work on a part-time, per diem basis did not show up for their shifts.

San Joaquin County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Andrea Lopez said she received a call at 6:30 a.m. from courthouse staff notifying her that deputies who work primarily as bailiffs did not appear for their morning shifts, which begin at 7 a.m.

“The deputies’ actions are tied to labor negotiations between San Joaquin County and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association,” Deputy County Administrator Jolena Voorhis said in a statement.

The DSA has been working without a new contract for more than four years. Negotiations between the county and DSA began in February of 2015, and about 25 bargaining sessions have been held since that time.

A final offer was presented to the DSA on Feb. 28, and the two parties entered mediation on July 30.

“We knew this was a possibility, but we did not know when or if it was certain to happen,” Lopez said in a statement Tuesday evening.

According to Voorhis, it is illegal for law enforcement to go on strike.

“Regardless, the intent of labor negotiations should not be the cause for services being diminished to San Joaquin County residents,” Voorhis said.

After an estimated 30 per diem deputies failed to appear, the courthouses were closed to ensure staff and public safety, according to Assistant Court Executive Officer Adrianne Forshay.

The courthouses provided limited resources to residents in the Stockton, Manteca, and French Camp courts.

“Lawyers came in to file continuations, and we had one department open for arraignments,” Forshay said.

The courts were required by law to keep a courtroom open so all individuals in police custody could receive an arraignment hearing, which must be done within 48 business hours of an arrest.

“We have adjusted to ensure that this requirement is met. We do not anticipate any releases or charges being dismissed because of this emergency staffing crisis,” Lopez said.

The courts allowed people to pick up and drop off documents, including restraining orders, but those functions were performed outside the courthouse.

“I can tell you that the courthouses are safe,” Lopez said.

The county courts use 30 and 35 per diem deputies, but the Sheriff’s Office could not say how many were needed Tuesday or how many called in sick.

“We only had 10 full-time deputies at the Stockton courthouse. We rely on our per diem deputies. Them not showing up has really impacted us,” Lopez said.

The deputies that did not appear for their shifts will not be compensated, according to Lopez.

While the Sheriff’s Office is not directly involved in labor negotiations between the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors and the DSA, they are hoping the two groups will find common ground soon.

“We are always mindful of our responsibilities to the taxpayers; any agreement we reach with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association or other unions must be viable in the long term,” Voorhis said.

In a recent press release, the county said a salary survey provided by the DSA in January shows total compensation for its deputies is more than 5.24% above the average of comparable counties.

The most recent proposal offered by the county includes a 5% pay increase over a 36-month agreement, while the DSA is requesting 6% over 25 months.

Longevity pay has been a main sticking point in negotiations, according to Voorhis, with the DSA seeking $4.7 million over three years while the county is offering $1 million over three years.

The county’s proposal would have a total cost of $3.4 million, an increase of $500,000 since the most recent mediation in August. The DSA’s most recent proposal would have a total cost of $9.8 million.

The Board of Supervisors is hoping to schedule a third mediation session with DSA, which is expected to happen within the next 30 days.

“The County is hopeful that a reasonable and sustainable compromise can be reached,” Voorhis said.

While both groups remain hopeful, it has not been confirmed whether the per diem offices will be required to attend their shifts.

©2019 the Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, Calif.)