GOLD BEACH Negotiations between Curry County and the Oregon Public Employees Union ended in a deadlock Monday over health insurance benefits and could be headed to mediation.

Talks will tentatively resume at 1 p.m. June 18, depending on the schedule of the mediator.

Neither side budged on the insurance issue Monday afternoon. The county offered to pay $570 per month per employee for a medical insurance package.

Employees would pay no premiums during the first year of the new contract, but would make co-payments in the second and third years.

The union held firm to its proposal for a $620 a month medical insurance package. Both packages cover most expenses when employees use preferred providers.

Most specialists in the Rogue Valley, however, are not preferred providers. The plan the union wants would cover 80 percent of those costs. The plan the county has offered would cover 70 percent.

Because the county wont guarantee that employees wont have to make co-payments in the second and third year of the contract, the union also proposed a one-year contract with a reopener. Negotiations for another contract would begin in the fall. The county rejected the idea.

Barbara Kellogg, from the unions Medford office, said to county negotiators, Were willing to talk three years if the insurance proposal is realistic. We dont feel your current proposal will work for us in the second and third years.

Were holding with the $620 policy. Members feel it best reflects their needs.

County Commissioner Marlyn Schafer said, You were concerned that all providers in the valley are non-preferred, but many are preferred.

Dave Manzella, with the Curry County Public Health Department, said most specialists are not preferred.

He said the 10 percent difference in coverage between the plans adds up to a lot for something like prostate cancer.

Lisa Freiley, labor negotiator for the county, said, The county cant continue to pay $1,000 a month for insurance.

Were not suggesting that, said Kellogg. Our members feel fully-paid insurance is a reason they work for the county. Without it, some may have to leave. Wages havent kept pace.

Were holding the line at fully-paid medical. Our members are concerned about the second and third years. That drives our request for a reopener.

The insurance issue is a sticky wicket for everybody, said Kellogg.

Freiley suggested if insurance is the top issue, the union could shift some money there from its wage request.

Kellogg said the union has been moving on the wage issue. She said employees have not been getting full step and wage increases.

The county has to maintain some level of comparability, she said, to recruit and retain employees.

We believe the budget is more flexible than you do, said Kellogg. We believe the county needs to make an investment in its employees. New phones, cars and other things are great, but so are people.

The county and union also disagreed on how much it would cost to give half-step increases to employees on their anniversary dates.

The county figure was $49,553. The union thought the cost would be $46,800, with another $5,200 saved because Community Corrections employees will transfer to the Teamsters union as part of the sheriffs office.

The two sides then broke off talks for an hour of private discussions. When they came back together, nothing had changed.

We will continue with our proposal on the table, said Freiley. A reopener doesnt meet our needs.

She said the county rejected the one-year contract idea because of the time and staff resources required for a new round of negotiations.

The county feels the proposal on the table is a good proposal, she said.

Kellogg said the countys tentative agreement with the Teamsters union offers better insurance benefits in the second and third years.

They will pay out of pocket, said Freiley. You want fully-funded insurance. Im telling you thats an unrealistic proposal for the county.

Kellogg said her unions members are well aware of the contract with the Teamsters. She said the county was willing to provide more money for a higher quality plan.

Our members perceive that as a fundamental lack of fairness, she said.

Freiley said the Teamsters could have said the same thing. They could have seen the extra $200-$300 the county spent on Oregon Public Employees Union insurance in the past as unfair.

Kellogg said she would take the countys proposal back to the unions members.

They see it as a question of equity, she said. They have a bumper sticker that reads Were a half-step away from being Jetty Cats.

Its a perception of how much they are valued and their work appreciated, said Kellogg.

Freiley said the county had been paying the employees 6 percent retirement contribution, plus $200-300 more on insurance than it had for the Teamsters.

They should feel very appreciated, she said of the employees.