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County may appeal ruling that favors deputy sheriff's guild

Kitsap County may appeal a judge's recent ruling in favor of its deputy sheriff's guild.

That announcement was made Friday by Jacquelyn Aufderheide, Kitsap County's Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor, in a press release posted on the county website. Prior calls made to all three county commissioners have not been returned.

Pierce Count Superior Court Judge James Orlando recently ruled in favor of the guild's argument that the county’s plan to retroactively increase deputy sheriff insurance payments is unconstitutional. Following that ruling, Kitsap County Deputy Sheriff's Guild President Jay Kent wrote the commissioners and urged them not to appeal.

"If the County appeals Judge Orlando's ruling this will only disrupt the parties' efforts to reach an agreement covering 2013 and beyond," Kent wrote. "It puts the parties on another collision course for yet another arbitration."

Back in February, a three-member arbitration panel gave the 105 deputies a 2 percent wage rate increase retroactive to January 2012 plus another half percent increase effective July 2012, increasing an average deputy's wages by $144.23 per month. As a consequence of the recession, most county employees received no wage rate increases in 2012. The additional half percent wage increase was intended to offset increases in employee contributions toward the cost of medical insurance premiums. Both the half percent wage increase and premium increases were to go into effect July 2012.

The Kitsap County Deputy Sheriff Guild challenged the award and Judge Orlando confirmed that the portion of the award retroactively increasing employee medical insurance contributions violated employees' due process rights, and struck that language from the award.

"Although we recognize the county's attorney might disagree with the Judge's ruling, the guild's legal counsel has long explained to the county that the parties 2010-12 contract cannot change insurance benefits after the fact," Kent wrote in his letter to commissioners. "The guild is willing to sit down with the County's negotiators and discuss future changes in insurance coverage; we cannot agree that after our deputies have performed work that they can have their wages or insurance decreased/diminished after the fact."

Prior to the award, the county paid 100 percent of the employee-only premium and 90 percent of dependent premiums. Under the terms of the award, deputy sheriffs were to contribute three percent toward the cost of employee-only premiums and 15 percent of the cost of dependent premiums.

"100 percent employer-paid premiums for health insurance are no longer standard nor are they sustainable," said Commissioner Josh Brown in the county's press release. According to Commissioner Brown, if the award had been implemented according to its terms, and depending on employees' choice of plans, a deputy sheriff would go from paying nothing for medical premiums to paying $19.47 a month for employee-only coverage. An employee's contributions for full-family coverage would increase from $116.78 to $194.64 per month.

"By comparison, most county employees pay as much as $71.22 per month for employee-only coverage, and $307.86 for dependent coverage," said Commissioner Charlotte Garrido in the county's press release. "The county's proposal to pay 97 percent for employee-only premiums and 85 percent for full family is a reasonable effort to bring deputies closer to what the rest of the county's employees are paying."

According Aufderheide, the solution mandated by this ruling also creates several problems. Ms. Aufderheide, who argued the case on behalf of the county, reported that under current legal standards, deference should be afforded to arbitration decisions and affirmed unless they are willful and unreasonable.

The Legislature established interest arbitration as an alternative means of settling disputes involving uniformed employees. "Striking one part of the award changes the dynamic of the entire award," said Ms. Aufderheide. "Typically, a reviewing court either affirms the entire award or vacates it and remands it back to the arbitrator."

 

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