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Union, county discuss pay raises

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| March 4, 2009 11:00 PM

Union members and county commissioners agreed on one thing at Wednesday’s meeting – they would rather negotiate directly than through representation.

Eight non-sworn sheriff employees entered the meeting and requested their Teamster Union representative Dan Dugan, along with county labor attorney Dan Johns and the commissioners’ executive assistant Bill Bischoff, leave the room so that they could talk directly with commissioners.

The employees are part of the 16 union members who were angered when they didn’t receive a 2.5-percent raise that commissioners voted in for “all county employees” last June. Neither they nor commissioners knew at the time that as union members, changes in pay could only legally be made through formal negotiations.

“Maybe saying ‘all’ (county employees) wasn’t the right term to be using,” Johns said, “but commissioners can’t sit here and unilaterally change your wages without your representative.”

The 16 union members are currently in the second year of a three-year contract with the county.

After talking to union members in private, Dugan made an official request to re-open negotiations for the limited purpose of discussing the non-sworn sheriff’s office employees’ wages at the meeting. Johns said he would look it over with commissioners once it’s put in writing, but it’s unlikely that he will agree to open negotiations without discussing other topics.

 “Yes, we’re willing to talk about it, but we also want to talk about what the recession is doing to the commissioners’ budget,” Johns said.

The current contract dictates that in July sworn officers will receive a 2.5-percent raise on top of a cost-of-living increase, which with inflation has been set at 3.8 percent. Commissioners might not be able to afford a 6.3-percent increase, Johns said.

Johns informed union members before he, Dugan and Bischoff, left the room that commissioners aren’t legally allowed to negotiate directly with them. By law, commissioners could say very little without Dugan and Johns present.

“We didn’t get the raise and we’d like to know why,” detention officer John Burn said to commissioners after the representatives left.

Union members expressed that they trust the commissioners and would rather not work through a union but that it’s a requirement of their employment. Commissioners went silent when asked if they would prefer negotiating face-to-face. Answering the question would put them in legal trouble, they said.

“But I think you can read between the lines,” Commissioner John Konzen added.

Eventually union members called Johns and Dugan back to the room, at which time they accused each other of rejecting the possibility of re-opening negotiations last year to grant members the raise.

“I offered to re-open negotiations and you declined,” Dugan said.

“No, you were very careful not to use the words ‘re-open negotiations,’” Johns replied. “You said you wanted to ‘discuss’ a few things in the contract.” 

Johns maintained that he offered to re-open negotiations for a pay raise for non-sworn members but only if Dugan was willing to discuss personnel changes the sheriff wanted to make. Dugan declined, according to Johns, so there hadn’t been further discussion on the issue since early last fall.