Clark County's labor dispute with deputies settled

Guild members were working under contract that expired in 2008

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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An arbitrator has settled a long-running dispute between Clark County and the Deputy Sheriff's Guild, the county's third-largest collective bargaining unit.

The guild's 129 deputies and sergeants had been working under the terms of a contract that expired in 2008.

After the county and the guild reached an impasse in contract negotiations in 2010, the groups went to mediation.

After mediation failed, the county and the guild used a process called interest arbitration, said Francine Reis, the county's director of human resources.

The sticking points included wage freezes and a vacation buyback program.

Guild members went without wage increases for two years, in 2009 and '10 -- as did other county employees. In 2010, deputies' base wages ran from $22.94 to $29.72 an hour, depending on rank and years of service.

Guild members received a 2 percent wage increase last year, and the arbitrator awarded a 2 percent increase for 2012, Reis said.

The county did, for the most part, end the vacation buyback policy that had been popular with employees. Twice a year, employees could sell back vacation days. The program cost $815,000 in 2008. The buyback program remained available only to members of the Deputies Guild, which had the option in their contract.

Reis said the arbitrator, Oregon attorney Howell L. Lankford, ruled Monday that the county has the discretion to discontinue the program for the guild members.

Deputy Robert Mullikin, guild president, said Wednesday he's glad to have a new contract but had hoped for a ruling more in the guild's favor.

He said the sheriff's office has eight vacancies.

"The county can't seem to get people hired," Mullikin said. Coupled with previous layoffs, he said the staffing level is the lowest he's seen in his 20 years with the office.

The new contract expires in six months, so negotiations will start again soon, Mullikin said.

Lankford also ruled that guild members will join other county employees in paying a portion of their medical premiums. While other county employees pay 7 percent of medical premiums for themselves, partners and dependents, members of the deputies guild will pay 5 percent, Reis said.

According to a 2011 study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, U.S. workers on average pay 28 percent of their health insurance premiums.

Members of the Custody Officer's Guild have also been in lengthy contract negotiations with the county.

Reis said she expects an arbitrator's ruling in that case in the next two months.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.