Mayor Marion Barry told a group of parolees from Lorton during a meeting yesterday that a program giving them temporary city jobs "was an opportunity, not a right."
Most of the 16 parolees on a trash-cleanup crew had walked off their jobs Monday, complaining of low pay and working conditions. Fifteen of the 16 returned to work Tuesday, but the D.C. Parole Board issued warrants to take into custody six men who had stayed off the job all day Monday.
The 16 were among 43 men who were given jobs by the D.C. Department of Public Works so they could be paroled. They had been eligible, but could not find work -- a condition of their release.
Barry told the group "to stay clean and out of trouble," a spokeswoman for the mayor said.
Barry and city officials involved in the program met with the parolees in the mayor's District Building office, she said.
"He emphasized to them their responsibility to the program and said it was an opportunity, not a right."
The men had asked for more than the $3.35 minimum wage they were being paid, such working equipment as boots and gloves, as well as health benefits and sick leave.
D.C. Parole Board Chairwoman Bernice Just said parole-revocation hearings would be held next week for the six parolees taken into custody. Revocation is not automatic, Just said.
Meanwhile, friends and family members of the men taken to the D.C. Jail expressed concern and anger.
"They have paid their debt to society," said the mother-in-law of one of the men. "They came out to be on an honest job. It's ridiculous to have his children . . . see him handcuffed and carried away."
While some of the men had said their pay was not enough to live on, others said they objected principally to such assignments as having to work in swampy areas without proper boots.
Officials said that the men will be given proper equipment, including boots and dust masks.