Kitsap deputies planning to picket Monday

The union representing Kitsap County deputies have scheduled an “informational picket” action in the hopes of bringing its longstanding labor dispute to the direct attention of the county commissioners and the general public.

The action is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday at the Kitsap County Courthouse, and is timed to correspond with the commissioners’ regular meeting.

“All we’re asking for are fair wages and fair medical benefits that are in line with what is offered in other places,” said Deputy Sheriff’s Guild president Mike Rodrigue. “We think the commissioners can provide the leadership needed to make this happen.”

“We’re very disappointed about this,” North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen said. “But we made what we felt was a fair offer.”

Since the sides are not expected to agree, the matter is scheduled for arbitration in early October. Afterwards, all sides must abide by the arbitrated decision.

But an Aug. 4 letter from Kitsap County Labor Relations Manager Rob Gudmundson characterized the county’s latest proposal as its “best, last and final” offer and maintains “this package is better than the award that any interest arbitrator would render.”

The deputies have been working without a contract since the end of 2002, when the last agreement expired. Since then, they have not been granted any cost-of-living increases or annual raises.

Gudmundson said he would rather settle the matter than go to arbitration, but he is not optimistic about this. He feels a retroactive reimbursement of 2.1 percent for 2003 and 2.9 percent for 2004 was a reasonable offer.

Rodrigue disagrees, pointing out this was less than the 3 percent of previous contracts. Since these amounts are less than the official cost-of-living increases, deputies are falling behind, he said.

Medical insurance is also an issue, with Rodrigue maintaining insurance for dependents should be paid for in full. Gudmundson says such an arrangement is “not financially prudent” for the county,

Gudmundson maintains Kitsap County provides excellent pay and benefits. A new deputy with an associate of arts degree now earns $41,766 per year plus overtime. Under the position the county was willing to accept in mediation, that deputy will earn $43,880 plus overtime in January 2005.

A top-scale detective sergeant now earns $61,027 per year plus overtime. This would increase to $65,718 plus overtime under the position the county was willing to accept in mediation.

Rodrigue expressed disappointment with the county’s bargaining tactics, saying, “This is the third contract in a row they’ve allowed to expire. This costs both sides money.”

Deputies are forbidden by law to strike. While both Endresen and Rodrigue noted they are still “doing a great job” under these conditions, Rodrigue concedes the situation has resulted in some morale problems — although not enough to cause anyone to leave the force for greener pastures.

“We could make more money elsewhere but that’s not the issue,” he said. “This is our home.”

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