Union employees of sheriff’s office denied pay raise

The State Employment Relations Board recently rejected an argument by union employees of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office that they should receive additional raises because of the role that an outside county department played in their current bargaining agreement.

The union had asked for a 4 percent pay increase while the sheriff’s office argued that the previously agreed upon 2 percent increase was adequate.

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Ohio Labor Council Lodge #4 took its case before the State Employment Relations Board. The union argued that the 2 percent wage increase agreed upon in its current bargaining contract was insufficient because it was made under the understanding that another county department would stick to a 2 percent raise if all other county departments did the same.

When that department-the Washington County Common Pleas Court-issued raises that ranged from 1.45 to more than 20 percent, the union’s bargaining units sought to reopen wage negotiations, according to the fact-finding report issued in June from the State Employment Relations Board (SERB).

Lt. Pat Gherke, who acts as representative for the local union could not be reached for comment Monday or Tuesday. Wes Elson, staff representative for the union, did not return calls seeking comment.

According to SERB’s report, the union argued: “The fact that the Court has used its power to influence the process of negotiations cannot be ignored.”

Representatives for the court, which include Common Pleas Court Judges Ed Lane and Randall Burnworth and Washington County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Williams, could not be reached for comment.

In their December letter to commissioners, the three judges did state they intended to seek 5 percent pay raises for their employees unless all other departments held to 2 percent raises. The judges stated their stipulation should not factor into other salary negotiations.

“Nor should it be presented as such to other departments as a way to justify the decisions you need to make,” wrote the judges in reference to their plans for raises.

According to Washington County Commissioner Tim Irvine, the two departments issue raises in different ways, but the commissioners are not directly involved in the decisions of either department.

“There are different ways that they manage their budget,” explained Irvine.

The sheriff’s office is represented by a bargaining unit and typically agrees on equal percentage increases across the board.

For example, the 2 percent raise agreed upon in the current contract applies to all union employees, including deputies from the criminal division, corrections officers, dispatchers, cooks, communications employees, control operators, maintenance personnel and various sergeants and lieutenants.

In departments without bargaining units, department heads can issue raises, within their operating budget, that are not necessarily uniform, said Irvine.

For example, a single employee could get a raise while other employees get none.

The courts are also unique in that the judges can set their budget by court order- essentially ordering raises for their employees-which is what they ultimately did this year, ordering a 5 percent pay raise to distribute among their employees.

Seeing this, the union and sheriff’s office reopened salary negotiations since another department was going above 2 percent.

Sheriff’s union employees asked for an additional 2 percent increase, or a 4 percent total increase for each of the three years of the current agreement.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office argued that 2 percent was sufficient.

Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said Tuesday he had no comment on the contract negotiations or fact-finding report.

In their reasoning for no additional raises, the sheriff’s office offered as evidence salary comparisons of Washington County deputies to those in several surrounding counties.

Washington County sheriff’s deputies are the second highest paid of the 23 sheriff’s offices in southeastern Ohio that are within three counties of Washington.

Deputies also receive 129 percent of the average top wage for their counterparts in the contiguous counties, and 140 percent of the average top wage for their counterparts in double-contiguous counties, the report noted.

The fact-finders sided with the sheriff’s office, nothing the inability of the office to control other departments’ wage negotiations. The fact-finders also noted that the pay raises for Washington County sheriff’s employees in 2013 and 2014 were at the top end of step increases for the 23 sheriff’s office unions in southeastern Ohio. In 2014, eight of those county sheriff’s unions negotiated greater increases than the 2 percent increase negotiated in Washington County with the highest being a 3 percent increase. In 2013, none of the 23 counties negotiated a higher increase than Washington, and only Morgan County equaled the 3 percent pay raise.

The fact-finding panel’s rejection of the pay raises is just a recommendation, noted Don Collins, council for the State Employment Relations Board.

Now the decision will go to a conciliation stage where both parties will mutually choose a SERB-qualified neutral conciliator from a roster of five. That conciliator will hear from both sides and make a binding decision, explained Collins.

The parties could also come to a mutual agreement on the contract before then.