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Arbitrator settles long-standing deputy contract dispute

A state arbitrator's ruling has ended a two-year contract impasse between sworn McHenry County Sheriff's officers and the County Board.

The Dec. 27 ruling splits the difference in the unresolved issues, siding with the Fraternal Order of Police on wages and with the county on lowering accrued compensatory time.

The FOP Unit 1, representing about 100 sworn patrol officers and detectives, have been working without a contract since Dec. 1, 2010. It is one of three FOP units representing sheriff's employees – the other two represent correctional officers and civilian staff.

County Administrator Peter Austin informed the County Board of the arbitration ruling at its Thursday meeting. The board's Human Resources Committee, like all the board's standing committees, canceled its meetings in December as elected leaders hashed out members' assignments following the Nov. 6 election.

"I'm happy it was resolved, but it took far too long to get to this point. But that was beyond both our control and the FOP's control," Austin said Friday.

The arbitration process is used to resolve contract disputes between governments and workers like police officers who are forbidden under the law from striking. Both sides put out their final offers on unresolved issues, and the arbitrator chooses one or the other for each issue.

Arbitrator Edwin Benn granted the union their wage increase request of 2 percent and 2.75 percent retroactive to 2011 and 2012, and 3 percent for 2013 and 2014. The county's final offer had been a six-month freeze for 2011 with a 2 percent raise kicking in the second half, followed by 2 percent for 2012, 2.75 percent for 2013, and 3 percent for 2014.

Union attorney John Roche expressed satisfaction with the contract.

"Had the parties been able to agree on wages, I think the other issues would have been resolved," Roche said.

Benn sided with the county's plan to pare down the maximum amount of comp time that union members can accrue. The county's proposal gradually lowers the maximum amount that can be carried over year to year from 160 hours down to 120 by 2014, with corresponding payouts to bring members who have accrued more that that into sync. The union's final offer proposed a maximum of 130 hours by 2014, but with no forced payouts.

A third issue – insurance benefits – in essence was settled when the FOP agreed to accept the county's proposal in exchange for its final offer on wages.

The county's insurance proposal goes to an 85/15 percent PPO ratio and a small percentage increase on HMO contribution. The union's insurance under its previous contract was a 90/10 percent PPO ratio.

County government has wanted all of its employees, union and non-union, to have identical insurance plans, and this contract is another step toward that goal, Human Resources Director Robert Ivetic said Friday.

"It was a good time to put forth changes to get all the contracts in sync so we wouldn't have to have different plans," Ivetic said.

Both sides had been waiting months for the ruling – the hearing was March 20 with final briefs turned in last May. One of the reasons for the delay was that Benn was chosen to conduct an independent assessment of how to end the contract stalemate between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Board of Education.

The county is presently in arbitration with the Service Employees International Union Local 73 unit representing 14 nonmanagerial employees of Animal Control. The union, certified in 2009, falls under a law that allows unions with 35 or fewer members to go to arbitration if they reach an impasse ratifying their first contract.

The SEIU Local 73 unit representing the county's six deputy coroners fell under the same law to go to arbitration to resolve their first contract. A separate arbitrator in May settled that dispute, almost four years since the coroners agreed to unionize.

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