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Deputies’ guild files grievance with state panel

The Kitsap County Deputy Sheriffs guild announced late last week it had filed an unfair labor law complaint against Sheriff Steve Boyer with the Public Employment Relations Commission, a state panel.

“A lot of restrictions (have been placed) on our ability to represent our people in the guild,” said detective and guild president Mike Rodrigue. “Now the way we take care of business will be different.”

The filing left Sheriff Steve Boyer, the Sheriff’s administration and the county’s personnel department baffled, since they hadn’t yet received any written or oral complaint from the guild.

“I am confident we will be able to work it out, just as we have done in the past,” Boyer said Monday. “Our deputies are hardworking and deserve to be recognized and taken care of.”

This most recent rift between the Sheriff’s administration and the Deputy Sheriffs guild stems from the expiration of the guild’s contract on Dec. 31.

Deputies have been working without a labor agreement ever since, but negotiations have continued on a number of issues including guild activities during “on-duty” or office hours, ac-cording to Rodrigue.

The sheriff’s office had proposed some changes, but no agreement was reached, Rodrigue said. Even so, he says the Sheriff’s office distributed a memo stating performing certain guild activities during regular office hours could no longer continue.

The expired contract says guild representatives can be released from duty to directly deal with guild matters, such as disciplinary hearings, negotiations and meetings with the Sheriff and the Sheriff’s administration during the normal workday.

“That was a unilateral change made in December without going through the bargaining process first,” Rodrigue said. “Neither party in a negotiation setting can make changes unless it is cleared from the table first. It should be treated as it has always been treated until it is resolved and dealt with.”

“I’m disappointed the deputies’ guild felt it necessary to involve the media in the negotiation issues,” said Undersheriff Dennis Bonneville, when he learned of the complaint. “It’s just a disappointing situation altogether.”

Bonneville and the Sheriff’s administration had hoped the latest dispute could be kept out of the press and dealt with internally.

“I don’t want this to in any way color the efforts of our line officers,” Bonneville said. “They are doing and continue to do a phenomenal job.”

Bonneville said questions regarding release time gained momentum when a guild member filed an overtime request for attending a guild meeting.

“We have to be very cautious with issues involving taxpayers’ dollars,” Bonneville said.

With help from the county’s personnel department, the Sheriff’s office cited case law supporting its December decision, indicating that while union members can conduct union business such as arbitrations and guild meetings, it must be on their own time and their own expense.

According to case law cited by the Sheriff’s office, “employer-funded attendance by bargaining unit members at union activities is improper where the union activities are not limited to those involving the particular employer and the union does not reimburse the employer.”

“This effects the entire guild,” Rodrigue said. “We have 110 members. The goal of the guild on this issue, like all other contract proposals, was to bargain in good faith with the county to reach a mutual agreement. This can’t happen if they make changes before we reach an agreement.”

Guild members also say the changes in policy are “suspicious” since they were launched just before two guild arbitration cases involving former Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputy Brian LaFrance and Sgt. Craig Montgomery. Both served previously as guild president, according to a statement issued by the Deputy Sheriffs Guild.

“Union release time is something that has been occurring not only in this department, but through law enforcement departments throughout the state,” said guild attorney Jim Cline in a prepared statement. “It is the way stuff gets done.”

Cline was not available for comment on Monday.

This is the first public rift between the sheriff’s office and the guild since guild members voted no-confidence in Boyer in a fall 2001 vote.

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