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New county FOP contract passes with ease

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[February 27, 2014]  LINCOLN  On Tuesday evening, the Logan County Board passed a new Fraternal Order of Police contract. 

The county has three, three-year union contracts to negotiate and does one of these contracts each year.  Other contracts are for the highway and the health departments.

While contracts are for three years, they still contain responsibilities that change from one year to the next.

One of the toughest issues in each of the contracts, particularly in recent years, has been the rising cost of health insurance.  Health insurance is an important benefit that is offered to all county employees and is renewed annually on May 1. 

Finance chairman Chuck Ruben pointed out that, "Short of going to one year contracts, which would be a nightmare, you can't ever get everything coincided so that it comes through at the same time."

The FOP contract includes the sheriffs department staff, deputies, corrections officers, jailers and employees at both the Public Safety Complex and in the courthouse.  

The FOP contract renewal date was Dec. 1, 2013.

During the Board of Whole meeting the topic was discussed.  Committee chair Rick Aylesworth handed the topic of the FOP contract over to Sheriff Steve Nichols to explain what changes were in this contract and to answer any questions. 

In addition to Aylesworth, Nichols specifically named Bill Martin and Bob Farmer in thanking the committee for how well everything went, "These negotiations, and the last negotiations were the smoothest. I think we finished up with the deputies and the corrections in less than four hours. No attorney fees. We saved money."

Comparing the contract as it looked in 2002 to today, the sheriff said that the county and the deputies have come to middle ground.  "Nobody has an advantage over either one, and that's what we strive for.  I feel good about it,"  he said.

In the negotiation, the sheriff explained that he is the man in the middle.  He must protect the county's interests. "But, they (the employees) also work for me."  He was satisfied with how this contract turned out, "Right now, everybody's happy."

Primary points of change in the contract were raises and the health insurance.

Nichols explained that in lieu of giving up holidays, correctional officers would get an additional 1/4 percent increase the second year of contract for 3 1/4 percent pay raise, and an additional 1/2 percent increase on the third year for 3 1/2 percent pay raise.

Deputies took a 3% pay raise across the board each of the three years of the contract.

The sheriff recalled that salaries for deputies had been frozen at one point and were brought back up during the last two contracts.

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Nichols also explained how the pay structure has been changed  to keep deputies.  Often the county is an entry level for deputies who stay just 18 months before advancing on to bigger departments or the state police.  There are now  sizeable jumps to entice the deputy to stay past the third year and get them to their fifth year.  "Most the people who stay five years are going to be there the rest of their career," he said.

Corporals took just a half a percent increase across the board; sergeants a 3 percent pay raise, and the rest of the staff 3 percent pay raise.

The other change was to the language of the health insurance. The last contract had paragraphs of detailed stipulations between policy choices.  In short, this contract simplified that language and said that if there would be a substantial change in health insurance, there could be renegotiation to bargain the changes along with wages. 

Corrections and maintenance pay toward their insurance.  Deputies have full coverage.

The intention is to allow the board to go out and negotiate the best insurance rates. "But if it took their salary increase, they would want to come back and negotiate," Nichols said.  "The language is equitable to both sides."

In answer to a compound question from Pat O'Neill about how the county would handle increasing annual costs such as health insurance in a three year contract, and the retroactive salary increases; Nichols and Ruben both answered saying that the pay increases, and to some degree, other increasing costs are anticipated and the money is put aside for it.

The full board was present on Tuesday evening.  The board has 12 seats, but one is empty with the recent resignation of Terry Carlton.   FOP contract passed on Tuesday with 10 votes yes, and one abstain from Andy Anderson.

[By JAN YOUNGQUIST]

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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