Our View: Can we talk? Time for county, deputies to settle

Our View
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Placer County supervisors need to speak up and show leadership in negotiating a fair and equitable contract with the county Deputy Sheriff’s Association. It took more than three years for the county and its sheriffs’ union to come to an impasse in their protracted contract battle. It took a little less than three months to elevate the case out of their hands. The Deputy Sheriff’s Association’s recent decision to file an unfair labor practice charge against the county with the California Public Employment Relations Board doesn’t bode well for future contract discussions. Pending the board’s decision, both sides must commit to come back to the table and negotiate in good faith, with good intentions, or the damage could be much deeper — and last much longer — than the current recession that landed them in this mess. That’s bad news for county leaders, deputies, and the citizens that both parties serve. Deputies say the county “engaged in bad faith surface bargaining,” refused to impartial mediation and imposed a contract that harmed them more “than even their last, best and final offer” in drawn-out negotiations. They want the contract, imposed in September, revoked. The county, represented by chief executive Tom Miller and the supervisors who approved the contract, says they gave union negotiators a solid proposal. That proposal was taken to deputies and was rejected in a union vote. The imposed contract met the cost-saving spirit of negotiations, and was necessary to carry law enforcement through the end of the fiscal year, county leaders said. County officials had asked deputies to help save about $1.8 million during the next two years through contributions to retirement and health care costs. The union said it had reached that figure through a 5 percent retirement contribution and 10 percent medical payment, but county accountants disagreed. The imposed contract calls for immediate savings of $815,000 this year by requiring deputies to cover 20 percent of their medical costs. The imposed pact will end in July 2010, meaning both parties will be back at square one in less than seven months. In early August, Miller said the union “is taking responsible steps to assist the county in these tough financial conditions.” Of the union’s filing last week, Miller said “it does nothing to move the overall issue of fair labor compensation along.” Union leader Josh Tindall said the action was needed to alert the county “so that an equitable contract with reasonable and shared sacrifice may be achieved.” Sounds a little like the recent prepared statements from the world’s best golfer. But can this marriage be saved? It has to be. County leaders, especially elected county supervisors, need to speak out now on returning to the bargaining table to negotiate a contract for deputies and the tax-paying residents who pay their salaries. We’ve heard nary a word from supes on the issue, yet any contract that is imposed or approved must go through them. For their part, deputies need to understand the current recession has hit every employee, public or private. Those who have kept their jobs have faced wage cuts, furloughs, reduced benefits and pension or retirement rollbacks. Unless both sides respond with an open hand and honest hearts, this battle could play out in hardball tactics for years to come. And as the economy rebounds, the best officers could leave for more secure, greener pastures. These are difficult economic times, and tough decisions must be made. Independent of the labor board’s decision on the union filing, county and law enforcement leaders should be making plans now to renew contract negotiations. And when they do, they need to bury the past and look forward.