The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 28, 2014

Arbitration reached between Sibley County, sheriff's office

Arbitrator rules for county on merit pay

GAYLORD — The pay dispute between Sibley County and the union representing the Sheriff's Office has been settled in favor of the county as an arbitrator rejected a 3 percent merit pay increase requested by the sheriff's union.

An earlier agreement between the county and sheriff's office allowed for general wage increases of 2 percent in 2013 and 3 percent in 2014.

The groups decided to let an arbitrator rule on the merit pay request that couldn't be resolved in the 2012 to 2014 contract for the 15-member sheriff's office. The Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services arbitrator was called in to resolve the merit pay issue, which is separate from any general wage payments.

The union argued the 3 percent annual merit pay increase for the three year contract was legitimate. Merit pay, which the union noted was in prior contracts, awards "the equivalence of step increases paid for added experience" beyond any general wage increases.

The union claimed the provision would only cost the county $19,328 in 2014, and that the increase was negligible compared to the county's overall budget. They argued they had struggled through the challenges of the recession alongside the county, so they deserved to share in the economic recovery.

The union also argued pay lagged beyond comparable pay with other Region 9 counties. They argued that the difference is particularly troubling given the county's involvement with the Twin Cities metropolitan region.

By contrast, the county argued it was a rural county with limited resources that was financially stressed by the recent recession and state aid cuts. The county challenged the union's estimate of how much the increase would cost the county, claiming the three-year total cost of the general wage and merit increase would exceed $153,000.

The county challenged the union's claim that prior contracts supported the increases, claiming the merit pay was instead a discretionary reward. The county also argued that an assessment of the Region 9 counties plus McLeod and Renville counties showed Sibley County had slightly lower comparative starting wages, but above average pay for top salary ranges.

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