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911 operators stage sickout to protest furloughs and pay cuts, causing LAPD personnel to cover shifts

July 2, 2010 | 11:01 am

Nearly three dozen emergency 911 operators staged a wildcat sickout Thursday at two Los Angeles call centers, prompting the LAPD to have administrators and other personnel work their shifts.

The sickout to protest furloughs and pay cuts was confined to operators who field emergency calls for the LAPD, officials said. The fire department has its own operators.

LAPD Asst. Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur said that department officials became aware of a possible work action late Wednesday and prepared plans to cover shifts. She said the sickout's effect was minimal, even though nearly a third of the operators were out on the day shift.

"Our administrative and training staff were able to cover those who had called in sick," MacArthur said. "We were up to full speed by p.m. watch."

On a typical weeknight, there are 45 operators working at the Metropolitan call center downtown and 40 at the West Hills station, officials said.

MacArthur said that although the department is sympathetic to the issues facing civilian employees, the primary responsibility of the LAPD is public safety.

"We have contingency plans in place to ensure the citizens of Los Angeles are safe," said MacArthur, who acknowledged that "there could be an impact on the speed in handling non-emergency calls" if the sickouts were to continue.

Police union President Paul M. Weber said he received two messages about the action via Twitter from the address "LA City Workers." The first read: "Mr. Weber, I would like to discuss our planned job action with you so that you may inform the department to ensure public safety."

A second read: "I anticipate a tac alert due to personnel shortages so your membership may get a few hours of overtime :)."

Weber said he forwarded both messages to the department to ensure it would be prepared to deal with the fallout from a possible work action. The sickout affected about half of the personnel at the two 911 centers during day watch, which is approximately from 6 a.m. to late afternoon.


The work action forced the police department to have some administrators and others to fill the shifts. 

Weber said he was concerned that the sickouts could continue and spread to the jails. "We are worried that this is going spread beyond the 911 operators," Weber said.

"This is really a reaction to the City Council implementing furloughs and layoffs," he said. "We are concerned that the department is going to have to take officers out of the field to backfill these critical functions."

In April, Weber warned that cuts to civilian jobs would negatively affect patrol officers on the streets.

"For every 100 officers who are pulled from the field work to backfill vacant civilian positions, it is the equivalent of removing about 30 police cars citywide," he said.

-- Andrew Blankstein