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Latest News - February 2015

February 25, 2015
Arbitrator sides with county in labor dispute with corrections employees
By: Chelsey Perkins

A state arbitrator has found mostly in favor of Crow Wing County on outstanding issues in a labor agreement with corrections employees in the sheriff's office.

The agreement involves 43 corrections employees represented by Law Enforcement Labor Services, Inc., Local No. 16 (LELS). The union and county were unable to reach an agreement and on Aug. 1 requested involvement from the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services. LELS is the only county employee bargaining unit that has not agreed in full or in part to a performance-based pay system.

The parts of the contract at issue were the length of the contract, wage increases and the union's wish to include longevity pay. The county sought a two-year contract while the union preferred a three-year contract. On wages, the county proposed a continuation of step increases along with no general wage increase, while the union proposed a 3.5 percent general wage increase each year plus step increases.

The union also proposed inclusion of a longevity pay increase beginning with employees with eight years of service. The plan would have given employees with eight years of service an additional 1 percent of their top rate of pay, 2 percent for those with 10 years of service, 3 percent for 12 years and 4 percent for 15 years.

Arbitrator Richard John Miller found in favor of all of the county's positions with a slight modification to its wage proposal, awarding eight employees who'd reached the top step a 3.5 percent increase for each year of the contract.

According to Miller's findings, the inclusion of this increase could be attributed in part to the county's predicted-pay report, which found correctional officers were below predicted pay by $53.07 per month or 1.2 percent of their current salary. Predicted pay, which is the average pay for males in a given class, is a calculation made as part of the Local Government Pay Equity Act, in place to assure equal pay between men and women in government jobs.

"This will increase their top salary above the predicted pay, and secondly, will give them a wage increase like all other bargaining unit members advancing through the steps of the salary schedule," Miller wrote.

Miller did not award the union's wage request and described the proposed increases as "enormous." He found the cost of the county's position on wages with LELS to be greater than the average cost of settlements reached with other bargaining units in 2014 in 2015.

"The union's final position would result in enormous wage increases for each employee ranging from 14.1 percent to 22.9 percent over the term of the contract," Miller wrote. "Wage increases this enormous have not been granted to public sector employees in the state unless there have been some market study adjustments negotiated by the parties, which is not the case here."

As for the proposed longevity pay, Miller did not find the union's argument in favor of the program compelling enough to warrant introducing a new program. The county eliminated longevity pay for all employees hired after Jan. 1, 1989.

According to the arbitration document, the union sought the program because of a high turnover rate - nearing 100 percent over five years - among corrections employees. Of those who left the unit, 54 percent left for other jobs, resigned or did not complete their probationary period.

"The evidence does not establish that employees are leaving the sheriff's department because of the wages being paid to correctional officers," Miller wrote.

The arbitrator's awards will apply to a contract from Jan. 1, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2015.

Teamsters settle with county

The county also settled a three-year contract with the Teamsters Local 320, which represents 125 employees in community services. With this new contract, the step pay plan was eliminated and the union agreed to a modified performance-based pay schedule for all employees rather than only new hires, as was the arrangement with the last agreement.

In the county's typical performance-based pay scheme, raises are awarded based upon an employee achieving one of five performance measures ranging from exceptional to unsatisfactory.

With the Teamsters agreement, employees will receive either no raise or the rate assigned to the "achieves" rating, meaning those employees who are given "exceeds expectations" or "exceptional" ratings will not receive larger raises than those receiving "achieves" ratings.

This amounts to a total wage increase of 2.34 percent in 2015, 1.75 percent in 2016 and 1.45 percent in 2017.

Tim Houle, county administrator, said one other bargaining unit, the one representing assistant county attorneys, uses a modified scheme like the one agreed to with the Teamsters.




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