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Deputies cry foul over labor practices

"A relationship already strained by a labor contract stalemate took another turn for the worse last week when the deputy sheriffs' union formally accused Kitsap County of an unfair labor practice.The complaint filed with the state Public Employees Relations Commission alleged the county unfairly refused to negotiate with the union over changes in the deputies' medical coverage.Contract negotiations between the Kitsap County Deputy Sheriffs' Guild and the county are at an impasse. The guild claims that while the negotiations were reaching the point that both sides requested arbitration last month, the county unilaterally increased the insurance premiums for the employees' health coverage.County administrator Malcolm Fleming denied the alleged missteps by the county.A state labor board might rule within eight weeks on the union's accusation of unfair labor practices, according to Jim Cline, an attorney representing the deputies. He said the case could delay the start of a new contract, once the latter is dictated by a state arbitrator.The two sides are in the process of choosing an arbitrator who will conduct hearings on the contract dispute and then make a binding decision on a new deal.Cline, one of the deputies' negotiators, has accused the county negotiators, including Fleming, of stonewalling other contract issues because of the wide difference over wages. The deputies are working under the terms of a former contract - also reached through arbitration - that expired Dec. 31 last year. They want a new two-year deal with 5 percent salary increases for both years. The county is offering 2.5 percent raises a year over three years.On the medical coverage issue, Cline said the the coverage changes made unilaterally simply reflect Kitsap County's continued amateurish approach to labor negotiations. It's about time they got their act together.Fleming said the claim of unfair labor practice isn't necessary to resolve this issue. We have a difference of opinion. I thought we were going to resolve it through arbitration. If the arbitrator awards something different than what we want in the contract, we'll make it retroactive to Jan. 1."

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