Sheriff’s deputies, others working without contracts in Washington County as labor talks continue

Posted Feb. 02, 2012, at 1:42 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 03, 2012, at 5:15 a.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County commissioners now are dealing with three labor unions representing county employees, instead of just one.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Department now includes two distinct bargaining units, with the Fraternal Order of Police representing 10 deputies in the patrol division and the National Correction Employees Union representing about 30 workers who staff the county’s jail and its dispatch center.

The bargaining units were created last year after those groups of workers parted ways with Teamsters Local 340, which represents about 3,500 workers statewide. The Teamsters continue to represent about a half-dozen county clerical staff.

The county has yet to negotiate new wage and benefit terms with the two new bargaining units. Those workers are now on the job under terms that mirror the previous Teamsters agreement. Chris Gardner, who leads the three-member board of commissioners, said Thursday he hopes to have new contracts in place before April 1.

“We’d like to get it done as soon as possible,” he said. “We don’t like operating without contracts. In developing a budget for this year, the budget committee made allowances, but what the final pay and benefit schedule will be remains under negotiation.”

County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald said all county employees were awarded a 1 percent pay increase effective Jan. 1, 2012.

“Not having contracts does make the budgeting process difficult,” Fitzgerald said Thursday. “As for when we’ll have new contracts in place, all I can say is sometime in the future. The situation is somewhat murky and indefinite.”

Sheriff’s Deputy Rich Rolfe, who is the shop steward for the Fraternal Order of Police bargaining unit, said he has met twice with Fitzgerald and a representative of the county attorney’s office.

“We’re at an impasse at this point,” Rolfe said Thursday. “I expect we will be moving forward with arbitration, maybe as soon as this week. Everybody on both sides of the table has been easy to deal with and respectful. There’s no animosity involved.”

Rolfe said the county’s patrol division opted out of Teamsters Local 340 to ensure that any patrol officer concerns wouldn’t have been trumped by corrections staff, who outnumber the patrol officers 3-to-1.

“We wanted a union that represented just us,” he said. “There hadn’t been any issues, but, if there were, we just didn’t have to numbers.”

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