A state arbitrator granted some wage and benefits sought by the officers, but the county has opted to appeal the ruling.
Washington County and its deputies, whose 2010 labor contract is the last with the county to be settled, are locked in a dispute over wage and other concessions granted to the officers by a state arbitrator.
The arbitrator last month awarded the dozen sergeants in the Sheriff's Office a 3 percent general wage increase retroactive for 2010 and a 1.5 percent increase for 2011. Lower-ranked patrol deputies, however, were awarded no general wage increase in either year, according to documents filed with the state Bureau of Mediation Services. However, all 83 members of Law Enforcement Labor Services (LELS) Local 214, which represents the patrol deputies and sergeants, were awarded any step raises they were due under the contract. Those raises range from 1.7 percent to 7.5 percent.
The county had argued for a wage freeze for both years, including the step raises. The Washington County Board met in closed session earlier this month, as allowed under state law when discussing legal strategy, and will ask to vacate the arbitrator's ruling, said Kay McAloney, the county's human resources administrator.
The next step in the dispute will likely be decided in Washington County District Court, said Dan Wells, chief executive of LELS, the state's largest law enforcement union.
Nine different bargaining units represent Washington County workers, and most contracts have been settled for 2011. None included a wage increase.
Four units did get a 3 percent general wage increase in 2010, while four received none, the records show. The County Board passed a levy increase for 2011 amounting to less than 1 percent, and much of the board's cost-cutting effort has been aimed at restraint in hiring and keeping a lid on salaries.
Negotiators in the dispute declined to comment, but in documents, the county argues that 85 percent of its 1,070-member workforce settled for no wage or salary step increases in 2010 and 2011.
The county also argues that the recession, state budget shortfalls and plummeting property values have put it in financial straits. The union countered that wages for deputies have not kept up with those in other counties.
The arbitrator, in ruling on the wage issue, said the county itself has boasted of its fiscal strength and has the second-lowest tax burden in the state.
"The facts do not support the county's claim that it does not have the ability to pay proposed wage increases," wrote arbitrator James Lundberg.
The wage dispute between the county and the deputies' union was among more than a dozen issues ruled on by Lundberg. Among them:
•Step raise changes: The union sought a shorter span of time for when step raises -- pay increases based on years of service -- would kick in, but the arbitrator rejected that proposal.
Patrol officers now get step raises each year for their first five years, then after 10 and 15 years of service. The union sought to change those latter two points of service to seven and 11 years, arguing that would be more in line with step raises for other county employees. The county countered that the cost of bringing officers with 11 to 14 years of service into that new step system would be cost-prohibitive.
•Step raise in 2011: The county lost its bid to include step raises for 2011 in the wage freeze. The union argued successfully that withholding the step raises that are in contract language would be inequitable when compared to other county workers, and would particularly hurt officers at the beginning of their careers. It would also widen the pay gap between patrol deputies and sergeants, the arbitrator said.
•Night differential: The union sought to increase the pay bonus for officers who work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. from 75 to 85 cents an hour, but was turned down.
The union compared similar counties in its argument: Ramsey County pays $1.35, Carver 85 cents and Olmsted $1.10. But the county pointed out that Anoka, Dakota, St. Louis and Scott counties pay the same or less than Washington County.
•Clothing allowance: Citing the county's switchover to new uniforms by 2012 and a new Minnesota law requiring police uniforms to be manufactured in the United States -- increasing costs 25 to 40 percent -- the union sought an increase in the annual clothing allowance from $625 to $700. The arbitrator agreed, rejecting the county's argument that phasing in the uniform switchover during a two-year period would ease the burden on officers.
•Cellphone reimbursement: There is currently no language in the contract covering reimbursement for required cellphones, though the county pays officers $30 a month. The union sought to codify that in the contract, along with raising the rate to $45, arguing that officers end up paying costs out-of-pocket because the reimbursement is too low. The county argued the rate is consistent with that paid to other employees. The arbitrator said adding the contract language would overstep his authority by making what would amount to a change in county policy.
Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999Join us on Facebook: facebook.com/ strib.washco