Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

Curry County Commissioners and the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) continued negotiations in June but hit an impasse and are headed to mediation.

The two sides narrowly avoided a strike last year before settling in August.

Curry County SEIU Secretary Cena Crook said at the commissioners meeting June 5 county workers had asked for 5 percent cost-of-living increases (COLA), 2 steps — a yearly step-increase of 2.5 percent or a “half-step” — and full coverage for health insurance, but the county had offered a 3 percent COLA and health coverage but no steps.

Crook said the union was now asking for the county’s current offer plus one step.

The county’s current offer would result in employees continuing to be paid at 2011 rates, according to Crook, and she added the steps the union asked for would only bring them up to 2012 wages.

County Payroll and Personnel Director Jullie Swift clarified the union is asking for 2 half-steps at 2.5 percent each – or 5 percent – and she noted SEIU employees did not receive steps between 2011 and 2016, did receive a 5 percent step-increase in 2017, but again received no step increase in 2018. Step increases of 2.5 percent were originally set to be added to a member’s salary every year on the anniversary of their employment.

SEIU members received a 2.13 percent COLA and $100 towards insurance costs last year, according to Swift. She said the county now pays about $1,200 per month for insurance, and the union is asking for full coverage this year, an increase of $32 per member.

County employees are being replaced by new hires when they quit who are then offered more money than the experienced employee they replace, according to Crook. She asked the board if county employees need to quit and be rehired to get a raise.

The county and union met June 10, according to SEIU officials, but did not reach a deal and would now move to mediation. She said it could be August before the sides can meet because there are a limited number of mediators available and both sides have to agree on the mediator.

County Commission Chair Chris Paasch said, “By law, I cannot make any comment on the ongoing negotiations but SEIU members are greatly appreciated as are all county employees, and we hope to have a resolution to this in the very near future.”

County Commissioners Sue Gold and Court Boice said they could not comment on ongoing negotiations but Boice said the county was doing what it could with “the limited resources we have and that which we can afford.”

The goal, according to Boice, was to get county staff on an equal basis, “so we can be objective and fair.” He said doing so would take time because more employees are unionizing and demands are growing.

“Their expectations in Curry seem reasonable on the one hand,” he said, “and quite reaching on the other.”

SEIU member employees include those in the assessors, clerk, finance, building and planning and facilities maintenance departments. A strike would leave department heads or elected officials to do their work in their absence.

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