Sheriff Laurie Smith Engaging in Wage Theft Against County Rules

The DSA had been attempting to engage the Sheriff in conversations since way back in 2013 to address this failure to properly pay people according to the law in positions classified as “Special Deputies” and commonly known as “Extra Help Deputies.”  Despite the sheriff’s public claims during the election that she is ready and willing to work with anyone, this simply isn’t true and this case shows just how unwilling she is to work with even her own personnel.

Where is good old Ben “We Support Labor” Field of the South Bay Labor Coalition and Rich “It’s All About the Worker” Robinson when it’s their best buddy, Laurie Smith, who is engaging the wage theft they so vehemently stand against?  I want to hear yet again how important it is to support the unions that ensure bosses don’t take advantage of or abuse their employees financial security.  Tell me how the county won’t let contractors engage in wage theft yet manages to turn their back on this incident that was brought to their attention last year.

We see all over the SBLC run blogs that often hosts Rich Robinson about what wage theft is and how it MUST be dealt with —  even as they ran these blog posts, they were attacking workers to defend a boss who was doing exactly that, stealing their workers wages.

Even more heinous is that we don’t know what was happening to that public money that was being “saved” — was it being pocketed like private profit?  Was it being shuffled over to other programs?  Was it helping to pay for Sheriff’s Advisory Board events?  Or was it really a sorely misguided attempt to save money and the full cost was never billed to the state?  We don’t know and the Sheriff doesn’t want us to know.

If Sheriff Smith was the manager of some Safeway or McDonald’s these very same people standing behind her, Dave Cortese, Rich Robinson, Ben Field, all would be calling for her head.  Instead, even as her workers were forced to seek redress in a courtroom, they defend her and openly ridicule the very laborers they claim to support.

San Jose mayoral candidate Dave Cortese had to be we aware of this wage theft issue considering the time line, yet even as he called for the county to address wage theft he was endorsing and shoring up a candidate for public safety that was stealing from her employees. He did this even as he was promising another embattled agency that he supports public safety and the boots on the ground in law enforcement.

Oh my, what a politician won’t say as long as you can’t see what is happening behind the scenes.

During the election, we even got to see one of the sheriff’s media tools in action on this issue, Jennifer Wadsworth of SJI, telling us how the county was considering an ordinance to punish employers guilty of wage theft yet like the rest of the media ignoring the activities of the sheriff’s candidate she was openly supporting through her unbiased *cough* journalism *cough*.  How… ironic.

I was asked to not cover this during the election by members of the DSA, mostly in the hopes from a handful of people that the Sheriff would sit down with the DSA and do the right thing.  While the sheriff was pleading to the public, attacking her own workers as Keystone Cops, with her campaign manager loudly proclaiming to everyone that would listen about how the DSA refused to meet with the sheriff, the reality was, the Sheriff was actively refusing at that very moment to meet with the DSA that was reaching out to resolve this issue, among others.

The DSA was finally pressed to file suit.  The sheriff, in what appears to be a response to the suit, on July 17th, attempted to maneuver to justify her wage theft by pulling one of her favorite tricks — attempting to reclassify the “Special Deputies” as “unclassified extra help” deputies.  These employees are under contract and dues paying union members.  You don’t get to randomly and unilaterally reclassify these employees because it’s fiscally convenient for one of your schemes.

The DSA reached out to the County Labor Board (CLB) to address this attempted re-classification and after what appear to be brief conversations, the CLB agreed they were not going to re-classify these employees.  Sorry, Sheriff, seems not everyone in the county will carry your water.

On July 30th, the DSA received the following message from their Attorney, Greg Adam, indicating that the courts found against the Sheriff and that she had indeed been using the “Extra Help Deputy” positions to pay below contract wage:

Today, Santa Clark County Superior Court Judge Joseph Huber issued an Order re Petition for Writ of Mandate in the lawsuit filed by the DSA against the County and the Sheriff’s Office concerning the pay rate of Special Duty Deputies.  Except for a six-month period in 2012, the Order GRANTS the petition and requires a back pay award for Special Duty Deputies back to November 2010.  Since that time, the County has been paying Special Duty Deputies at a rate approximately $7 per hour below the minimum salary range applicable to regular duty deputies.  We estimate back pay will be in excess of $1 million.

Because Judge Huber found Special Duty Deputies’ duties to be “comparable” to regular duty deputies (as all DSA members know to be true) he found that part of PEPRA and a prior law applied and mandated equivalent pay rates.

This is an important win for the DSA and full credit should go to Don and Roger and the full board of directors.  Special recognition must go to Kris Tarabetz, Nancy Csebanyi and Stephen Huld for submitting declarations that convinced Judge Huber about the comparability of the duties.  Roger worked tirelessly facilitating the declarations and compiling background research.

The DSA did everything it possibly could to avoid having to litigate this dispute.  Ultimately, we were unable to resolve it with the Sheriff’s Office and the County.

The next steps may be dictated by whether the Sheriff’s Office elects to appeal the decision.  It would face an uphill battle if doing so.  Judge Huber is well-respected and his ruling is clear and well-reasoned.

The DSA will follow up to determine back pay issues, statutory interest and statutory attorneys’ fees.  We will also address the question of the Special Duty Deputies wages and responsibilities going forward.

Gregg Adam

Carroll, Burdick & McDonough LLP

This may not be the only area the sheriff is conducting wage theft either from what insiders are telling me. My understanding is that the sheriff has possibly been using the Pay Jobs system to allow what would normally be overtime work for deputies to be billed as “extra” work at a lower rate for contract cities and others.  This not only underpays deputies, but puts them at risk conducting actual law enforcement actions in assignments where they are not supposed to act as law enforcement, but only security.  We all know from the current noise about Santa Clara double badging the risk deputies face if they are injured or considered liable while acting in a law enforcement capacity in one of these assignments.

It is my understanding from a number of sources inside and outside the Sheriff’s Office that perhaps Sheriff Smith, though paying $7 an hour less to the extra help deputies of which there are many of in the courts, may actually have been billing the state at the full deputy rate all this time.  We don’t know if this is the case at this point, but taxpayers should be adamant that some entity at the county or state level look into this and get a clear picture if she was conducting fraudulent billing and, if so, what was happening to that money for the past 3+ years.

There are a lot of rumors about the sheriff’s financial management being questionable — three card Monte with multiple bank accounts, entire divisions of the office being told they have no budget, this case of potential over-billing, the money from the academy, the money from asset forfeiture that doesn’t appear to be used as mandated… all have had questions raised.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, there may be absolutely nothing wrong with the sheriff’s financial management of the office.  But as she so frequently loved to point out — she has “experience” in dealing with a budget of more than $300M dollars.  Don’t we think the taxpayer deserves some transparency on these hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure the questions we have are answered and that the right thing is being done with our tax dollars?

We now have a verified case of Sheriff Laurie conducting wage theft.  It’s my understanding that this is far from the only case our illustrious five-term sheriff will be facing regarding this subject.  It’s my understanding that deputies consider the sheriff taking corrections officers out of the jails to conduct enforcement responsibilities at a lower rate of pay and a lower overall cost due to significantly less training (increasing the danger to the public, deputies and corrections officers) another form of wage theft that may also soon be addressed.

Ultimately, the taxpayer pays for all of this… with the added cherry of paying everyone’s attorney because we still have a sheriff who believes she is above the law and not beholden to the commitments of the county to the taxpayers.

Congratulations, voters — We’ve got FOUR MORE YEARS of this.

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