MONROE - As teachers at Bedford Public Schools began their sixth month working without a contract, another group of public employees in the county moved to take its year-long dispute to binding arbitration.
Approximately 80 members of the Monroe County Sheriff's Deputies Association have been working without a contract since the first of the year, when their last labor agreement with the county expired.
Although negotiations have continued since then, the county declared an impasse last month, meaning the deputies' pay will be put in the hands of an independent arbitrator.
Michigan law prevents the sheriff's deputies from going on strike. In the event of an impasse, their bargaining unit can either accept the county's final offer or ask for an independent arbitrator to impose the terms of a new agreement.
The arbitrator can choose to accept the county's last proposal in full, the union's last proposal in full, or form a compromise.
Maj. Tom Scott said the county was able to come to terms with the dozen or so members of the Monroe County Command Officers Association, who have tentatively agreed to a six-year deal that gives them, among other things, a 3 percent raise each year.
The command officers' contract is expected to be ratified by the county board at their meeting Tuesday in Luna Pier. The group's old contract also expired Jan. 1.
The county presented a mirror offer to the deputies, but they balked at a provision that would have effectively capped their pensions at current levels while making themselves responsible for their own retirement investments, Major Scott said.
Negotiations between the two unions and the county got off to a rocky start as county officials waited for the results of a compensation study.
Through most of 2000, consultant William Rye conducted comprehensive studies of nearly every job under the county's jurisdiction.
Mr. Rye looked at not only what the individuals were paid, but what work they did in comparison to counterparts elsewhere in the county and in similar counties across Michigan.
As a result of that study, corrections officers and their supervisors received large “equity adjustments,” raising their pay scales to levels equal to or greater than that of road patrol deputies. The corrections officers' positions had long been viewed as an entry level job in the department, with corrections officers seeking to become road patrol deputies as a promotion.
The corrections officers' pay hike threw that system off-kilter, some members of the deputies union said, because the same study did not recognize what they believed was the inherent danger of their work, and spawned resentment toward the entire Rye process.
Bedford Public School teachers have been working without a contract since July 1 and have made little progress toward reaching a labor agreement.