Commission Okays Jail Layoffs

August 22, 2009 12:05:42 AM PDT
The union representing Fresno County's Correctional officers claimed the Sheriff's Department failed to issue layoff notices on time. They took their claim to the County's Civil Service Commission on Friday. The hearing before the County's Civil Service Commission was an effort to stop the layoffs of 29 correctional officers and more than a dozen community service officers. But after a three hour hearing, the panel voted 3 to 2 that the layoff order was valid. Commission Judge Justin Campagne said, "That's all they could decide. They weren't allowed to determine if the layoff was a good idea or a bad idea. All they are looking is a very narrow issue, and that is, were the rules substantially complied with."

It was a bitter disappointment for employees like Darrell Broughton. He's been a correctional officer in the jail for four years.

"There's a lot of uncertainty in our lives. We're turned upside down all of the sudden," said Broughton.

Friday Night Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims told Action News she had no choice but to layoff the officers because her department faces a 3.5 million dollar budget shortage. She wanted to reassure the public the cutbacks at the jail would not harm public safety.

"The employees were fighting for the jobs and I can't blame them for that. However, we were able to make sure we're not going to have mass releases. And I think that's the message I want to get to the public tonight. Because I think there were rumors of mass releases this weekend and that's not going to be the case," said Mims.

But the Sheriff notes the jail has been releasing non-violent inmates early for the past several weeks, to reduce the jail population. Because fewer correctional officers will mean the jail will be able to hold about four hundred less prisoners.

"The reality is that we are going to be able to hold fewer people," said Mims.

The Sheriff says once the budget situation improves, she hopes to hire back those who were laid off. SEIU union representative J.G. Payoyo says the union is going to continue to try and get them back on the job as soon as possible. He said, "We're always going to negotiate with the Sheriff to try and convince her that these layoffs are unnecessary."

Payoyo says if negotiations fail, the union is ready to file an unfair labor practice action against the Sheriff's Department. However, those procedures can take weeks or months and there does not seem to be any immediate way to stop the layoffs.

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