Libby Montana News Archive

LibbyMt.com > News > March 2009 > Frustrated union members meet with commissioners on pay raise

Kootenai Valley Record. Photo by Kootenai Valley Record.
Kootenai Valley Record
Frustrated union members meet with commissioners on pay raise
by Brent Shrum, Kootenai Valley Record
March 12, 2009

Dispatchers, detention officers and clerical staff at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office aren’t happy that they were left out of a deal that provided other county employees with a 2.5 percent pay raise.

"I guess the nicest way to put it is, 17 people didn’t get it" detention officer John Burn told the county commissioners last week. "And are we not county employees?"

Burn and several other sheriff’s office employees met with the commissioners on Wednesday to express their dissatisfaction with the pay raise enacted last summer. The commissioners approved the 2.5 raise along with a 2.8 percent cost of living adjustment in accordance with an agreement with the Teamsters union, which represents both sworn deputies and non-sworn employees of the sheriff’s office. The sworn deputies had threatened to strike if they were not given the raise.

Because deputies’ salaries are set by state law at a percentage of the sheriff’s salary, and because the sheriff’s salary is tied by law to all other elected officials’ salaries, the agreement obligated the county to provide the raise across the board for elected officials. The commissioners followed their established policy of giving the raise to employees as well as elected officials.

But the county’s contract with the Teamsters, signed last May and covering the period of July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2010, provides only an annual cost of living adjustment for non-sworn sheriff’s office employees. Because those employees are covered by the union contract and because their pay is tied by law to the salary of the sheriff or other elected officials, they didn’t get the 2.5 percent.

"When you look at it, it’s just not fair," secretary Amy Carlberg told the commissioners.

Dan Johns, the county’s legal counsel for union negotiations, explained that unionized employees must negotiate their salaries separately and through a formal process. He noted that in the past, union members have gotten raises that other employees didn’t get. To make a change now, the contract would have to be opened for negotiations.

"They can’t sit here and unilaterally change your wages without going through the union representative," Johns said.

Opening the contract would also allow for negotiation on other issues, Johns pointed out. While some discussion about opening the contract did take place after the pay raise was approved last summer, the idea was shelved due to a potential sticking point regarding supervisory employees excluded from union membership.

"The bottom line was that the contract did not get opened," Johns said.

At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, union members asked that Johns and the Teamsters’ negotiator, Dan Dugan, leave the room to allow them to talk with the commissioners alone. The commissioners told the union members that they are required to use legal representation during negotiations to avoid charges of unfair labor practices, but Johns and Dugan agreed to leave as long as no negotiations took place in their absence.

Alone with the commissioners, union members showed frustration with the negotiating process. Problems could be avoided if the two sides could talk face to face instead of having to use go-betweens, Burn said.

"We’re the ones in the middle – you and us," he told the commissioners. "Because we’re the ones trying to keep things running smoothly and honestly."

The commissioners appeared uneasy about continuing the discussion without Johns and Dugan present.

"Any conversations with you, we’re walking a real tightrope," Commissioner Tony Berget said.

After bringing Johns and Dugan back into the room and discussing the possibility of opening the contract for negotiations, the union members left with Dugan for a brief private meeting. When they returned, Dugan said the union members would like to open the contract for the sole purpose of negotiating wages for non-sworn members. Johns told Dugan to submit the request in writing to get things started.

Keeping communication open is "paramount," Commissioner John Konzen said.

"In the process, that gets lost sometimes and I don’t like that," he said. "I like people to people."

Editor’s Note: See the March 10, 2009 edition of the Kootenai Valley Record for the printed version of this story. The Kootenai Valley Record publishes once a week, now on Tuesday, in Libby, Montana. They are a locally owned community newspaper, located at 403 Mineral Avenue in Libby. For in-county and out-of-county subscription information, call 406-293-2424, or e-mail kvrecord@gmail.com.

LibbyMt.com > News > March 2009 > Frustrated union members meet with commissioners on pay raise
All page content copyright 2009. All rights reserved. May not be used without permission.

home page
PO Box 940, Libby, MT 59923
e-mail: info@libbymt.com