3-year county-union stalemate nears end

Posted Sept. 01, 2011, at 5:02 a.m.

AUBURN, Maine — Androscoggin County’s largest union — covering jail guards, dispatchers and patrol deputies — is inching closer to a signed contract.

On Monday, union members voted to approve the deal. On Tuesday, county commissioners Elaine Makas and Jonathan LaBonte formally signed a contract.

All that remained was the signatures of union leaders to end three years of debate over pay and benefits affecting about 70 workers.

The contract covers the years 2009 to 2012. It includes modest pay raises each year and forces all union members to convert to a less costly health insurance plan. It also forces an end to an ongoing complaint with the Maine Labor Relations Board.

Union President Delbert Mason declined comment Tuesday, citing the pending agreement.

Commissioners were more outspoken.

“I’m just ready to put this behind us,” LaBonte said Tuesday. LaBonte, who is running for mayor of Auburn, said he was eager to move on to other topics. Those matters include plans to renovate the county courthouse, several lawsuits and a possible merger of the county’s emergency dispatching with Lewiston-Auburn.

Makas said she, too, was relieved by the contract-signing. “I’m absolutely delighted,” she said.

The path to a signed contract hasn’t always been friendly.

Negotiations began in 2008 with a previous County Commission. When all three commissioners lost their seats at the end of that year, negotiations started over with the new commission. Since the beginning of 2009, workers have been without a contract.

Mediation began in early 2010. When that failed, the process went to fact-finding.

The commission made at least three offers. The union rejected all three. In protest for working without a contract, workers grew whiskers and, in some cases, wore street clothes instead of uniforms.

This spring, the sides seemed to have finally come to an agreement.

On May 4, commissioners made an offer that would have ended the three years of deliberations and 31 months of work without a contract. Union members approved the deal six days later on May 10 by a vote of 54-1.

Commissioners then wanted changes. They made a second offer.

The union approved that one, too, voting 40-1. Then, the commission rescinded the offer.

Since then, the union has filed a complaint with the Maine Labor Relations Board. The commission filed a counter complaint.

Deliberations began again two weeks ago. One week ago, the commissioners voted in favor of the new offer but failed to get the support of Commission Chairman Randall Greenwood.

“I won’t be signing the contract,” he said Tuesday.

(c)2011 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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