The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 28, 2014

Arbitration reached between Sibley County, sheriff's office

Arbitrator rules for county on merit pay

By Josh Moniz

---- — 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.

Finally, the county noted the AFSCME highway unit in Sibley County had settled for the county's terms.

Other disagreements dealt with compensation time and overtime pay for investigators.

For compensation time, the union sought the maximum limit of 120 hours per year with an increase maximum carry-over amount of 84 hours. The union argued the change would allow public safety employees to take much needed time off of their stressful jobs.

The county argued for a maximum of 84 hours per year with a maximum carry-over of 60 hours. The county argued the union's request would create scheduling difficulties.

For overtime pay for the county's investigators, the union argued that all other public safety employees were paid overtime when they exceeded their 12 hour shifts while the county's two investigators were only paid when they exceeded 40 hours per week. The county opposed any changes.

The arbitration process was settled in support of the county on both issues.