Commissioners sign off on new contract for CenCom staff

PORT ORCHARD — Kitsap County emergency workers have unanimously ratified a new contract, resolving a long-standing labor dispute and bringing them to parity with other workers in the region.

The agreement was finalized at the Kitsap County commissioners’ Monday meeting. All parties — CenCom management, a county attorney and a union official — expressed satisfaction with the solution.

The agreement cost the county a total of $795,000, and includes five year's worth of back pay and benefits.

County Attorney Rob Gudmundson said workers would receive the equivalent of a 24 percent pay raise. This approximately breaks down to a cost-of-living increase of 14 percent; a market adjustment of 3 to 5 percent; and a conversion of wages and benefits of 4 to 5 percent.

Emergency workers have worked without a contract for five years. At the end of the last contract, the workers felt poorly represented and sought to create their own labor union.

The process took more than three years and the final entity was approved in last fall.

Negotiations began in earnest in March.

“It’s been a long, rocky road,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel. “We had to jump through a number of hoops.”

While Angel and other county representatives acknowledge that five years have passed since the last contract, they point out the actual negotiation took just nine months.

Emergency workers last approached the commissioners on Nov. 22, claiming negotiations were at an impasse. One day later, the union released copies of a blog written by CenCom assistant director Dave Magnanet, which disparaged the negotiations.

Magnanet was subsequently placed on administrative leave and is awaiting the decision that will allow him to return to work.

Since Magnanet’s suspension, all sides have worked long hours in pursuit of a solution. However, they now say the essential parts of the contract were already on the table prior to the personnel action.

Union president Lisa Thorsen said the Magnanet situation “colored the ability to negotiate” for a short time, but did not significantly affect the process.

The new contract expires Dec. 31, 2006.

The bulk of the county’s expenditure is a $700,000 “ratification incentive,” divided among employees according to their years of service and pay grade. Employees are responsible for paying taxes on the windfall, and have acknowledged the awarding of the incentive does not set a precedent.

“I’m every happy this is over,” said supervisor Jim Stallings. “The timing is very good, that it was settled before Christmas. If it had dragged on through the holidays it would have ben difficult for a lot of people.”

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