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Deputies’ negotiations turn ugly

PORT ORCHARD — The renegotiations of a new contract turned contentious this week when Kitsap County Sheriff’s Deputy Guild members accused the county’s chief negotiator of shading the truth and not providing the county commissioners with all the needed information.

The complaints were leveled against Kitsap County labor negotiator Rob Gudmundson, who also handled last year’s contract negotiations.

“There is a level of truth-telling that is absent in these proceedings,” said Guild attorney Jim Cline. “It has gotten to the point where if Rob says something is true, we’re inclined to believe the opposite.”

On Monday, the county commissioners voted to file an “unfair labor practice” charge against the Guild with the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), alleging the Guild had refused to bargain in good faith.

Guild president Mike Rodrigue initially responded by saying he felt negotiations were conducted in good faith, and that the mediator would let them know if they were doing anything inappropriate.

However, this particular safety net may not exist. Mediators are generally neither equipped nor inclined to inform a negotiating party of a violation of unfair labor practices.

Both hearings and arbitrations fall under the purview of the PERC but are quite different, according to the agency’s unfair labor practice manager Mark Downing.

Arbitrations, he said, work toward a common solution, while hearings are more adversarial, with witness testimony and imposed sanctions.

These events have added a personal level to the negotiations, which has prompted statements from South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel, Central Kitsap Commissioner Patty Lent and County Administrator Cris Gears.

“It’s unfortunate that this has turned into a personal attack against Rob,” Angel said. “It would be better if we could focus on the issues.”

Added Gears, “I don’t know why they’re doing this. I suspect it could be some kind of negotiating tactic.”

Perhaps coincidentally, Rodrigue used the word “tactic” when describing the county’s initial announcement of its filing.

As of Thursday, the action had not yet been filed with PERC but Gudmundson said he expected to do so in the next few days. He said he could not disclose the reason for the delay due to attorney-client privilege.

Cline said Gudmundson had generated several complaints about his negotiating tactics during his three years on the job. Gears said he was unaware of any such complaints.

Earlier this week, both sides waged war by press release. Rodrigue wrote in a public letter to Angel, “We have been more than willing to meet the county half-way, but we keep getting greeted with a slap. In light of the county’s past expensive failures in arbitration and the expensive bungling of the insurance program, the time is well past for the county commissioners to assess the conduct of its labor relations officers.”

“We have received the materials provided by the leadership of the Deputy Sheriff’s Guild and believe they are inaccurate and have completely failed to address the issues relevant to the county’s unfair labor practice charge,” stated the county’s response. “The primary objective of the unfair labor practice charge authorized yesterday by the commissioners was simply to help bring the guild back to the table and reach a mutually agreeable contract through good-faith bargaining.”

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