For at least three decades, it was standard practice for deputy district attorneys to receive nine paid days off in exchange for being “on call” two weeks out of the year.
But after a whistleblower complained, the San Luis Obispo County auditor did some checking. The upshot: Deputy DAs were not entitled to the days off since the benefit was not included in their labor contract.
District Attorney Dan Dow disagreed — he believes it’s a matter of work scheduling, not subject to negotiations — but he put a stop to the practice. As a result, deputy DAs have been working without the perk since April, though efforts are underway to reinstate at least some of the lost days off.
We appreciate that it’s not easy to give up a job benefit that’s been in effect so long. But that’s no excuse for refusing to accept on-call duty — if that’s what deputy DAs are doing.
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As reported last Sunday by Tribune writer Matt Fountain, deputy district attorneys decided that, effective Aug. 31, they will no longer work on call.
There are, however, exceptions for serious crimes, such as murder. For less serious cases, law enforcement officers still have a list of phone numbers they can call if they need to consult with a deputy DA after hours. But, there’s no guarantee someone will be available to take the call, according to Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham.
We hope that’s mere posturing. We would hate to think any public employee — no matter what department — would allow a labor dispute to jeopardize public safety.
It’s one thing when teachers decide not to volunteer to help with extracurricular activities during difficult labor negotiations. It’s quite another when employees who are charged with keeping us safe from criminals are unwilling to be available after hours.
That said, we agree deputy DAs deserve some compensation for on-call duty, though nine days — which average out to be worth nearly $6,000 per employee — is much too generous.
It’s far more than what other San Luis Obispo County employees receive for on-call duty. Most get only modest stipends; for example, district attorney investigators earn $10 for a 24-hour “standby” shift.
Some salaried employees who aren’t eligible for overtime — for example, certain highranking members of the Sheriff’s Office — do receive administrative leave to compensate for additional time they put in. But the most any single county employee receives is 48 hours per year. (Deputy district attorneys also earn administrative leave — 32 hours per year. That’s in addition to the nine paid days off they had been receiving for on-call duty.)
Nine days off also is more generous than what deputy district attorneys in other counties receive. Ventura County deputy DAs, for example, get four days off for every two-weeks of on-call duty.
As reported last Sunday, Dow has proposed trimming the perk from nine to four days. That’s more like it, though we believe a flat rate — such as the $450 that Santa Barbara County deputy DAs earn for two weeks of on-call duty — would be less costly and more appropriate.
Either way, County Auditor Jim Erb maintains that the benefit still needs to be negotiated. That makes sense. All other employee groups have compensation for standby or on-call work included in their contracts.
Why should deputy DAs be treated any differently?
In the interest of transparency, it’s far better to have all benefits subject to negotiations and spelled out in a contract. That helps ensure all employees are treated equally; it lets new hires know exactly what they are entitled to receive; and it’s valuable information that taxpayers can use in assessing how their tax dollars are being spent.
Again, we support reasonable compensation for on-call work by deputy district attorneys, but such policies should be ironed out during contract negotiations.
A CLOSER LOOK AT COMPENSATION IN THE DA’S OFFICE
AVERAGE DEPUTY DA IN SLO COUNTY, WITHOUT BENEFITSHourly:
AVERAGE SALARY INCLUDING BENEFITSHourly
VACATION10 days per year
from beginning of service through end of fourth year.15 days per year
from beginning of fifth year through end of ninth year.20 days per year
from over 10th year of service.
Administrative leave: Four days per year.
Personal: One day per year.
Holidays: 12 per year.
SOURCE: SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT