When former Sheriff Jack Anderson first floated the idea three years ago that civilians could do the job of deputies in the jails, at a much cheaper cost to taxpayers, most political observers expected the deputyies union to protest — and loud.
Except, the protests never seemed to show up, even though civilian workers have been popping up at the jails since January.
That relative silence ended last week with the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs coming forward to seek a temporary restraining order to halt the civilian staffing shift, one that will soon make up 35 percent of the jail workforce.
But county officials say that deputies union officials have been so silent for so long that they’ve forfeited any rights to protest the staffing move.
“At no time did AOCDS [the sheriff’s deputies union] seek to challenge the establishment of this new class or suggest that their work caused harm to their union or their members. Now, nine months later they have petitioned this court for an ex parte order enjoining the use of CSAs [Correctional Service Assistants] in the jails,” argued Deputy County Counsel Teri Maksoudian in court filings.
Indeed, last week the deputies union’s request for a temporary restraining order was denied without oral arguments even heard. Judge Nomoto Schumann did however schedule an expedited hearing on Sept. 3 to consider whether a permanent injunction should be granted.
AOCDS representatives did not respond for comment on this story.
That kind of public relations approach — silence — is exactly what county officials argue has doomed the deputies union’s desire to now quash civilian jail workers.
Maksoudian wrote that if AOCDS had concerns about their members’ safety as a result the sheriff’s decision, they were obligated to request to meet and voice their concerns long ago.
“They had notice of the Sheriff’s decision over a year ago and the CSAs have been staffing the jails since January 2010,” Maksoudian wrote. “Clearly, they have waived any right they may have had to discuss this alleged impact of the Sheriff’s decision.”
The Sheriff’s Department’s human resources department in court documents said its officials met with deputies union representatives — General Manager Mark Nichols and President Wayne Quint — as far back as October 2008 to advise them that civilian workers were on the way.
That was about the same time that public concerns were being raised about sheriff’s deputies’ overtime costs as well as swelling pension contributions. And county supervisors were making public their worries about having to absorb more than $50 million in public safety cuts.
So it’s understandable that the deputies may have been muted on any deep concerns about bringing cheaper workers into the jails.
Civilian jail workers have been working both the main jail and the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange.
They are generally assigned to fixed guard station positions in the housing modules and barracks, officials said. According to court documents, the civilians work directly with deputies, managing the operation of the housing units, and are not assigned duties that involve direct inmate contact.
County officials say the civilians aren’t changing much for the deputies because shift options haven’t changed and only a few duties have been shifted to civilians. However, officials do note in court documents that with the new federal immigration housing contract, “new assignment options for deputies have become available.”
Department officials underscore their arguments in favor of the civilian workers by arguing that “no deputy sheriff has lost their job as the result of the CSAs.”
Maybe that’s why the deputies union has been relatively quiet on the issue until now.
While AOCDS President Quint did go on record on his blog in 2009 saying the civilian workers effort would be a “disaster,” opposition from the union has been somewhat muted and timid — at least until now.
There is a good chance that the volume will be turned up at the September hearing.
— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.