Photo:  Sgt. Jimmy LeBouef is the President of the Orange County Sheriff’s Employee Association

 

By Dave Rogers

For The Record

So much for warm fuzzies and a quick end to the long standoff on contract negotiations between Orange County and its sheriff’s deputies.

The Sheriff’s Office Employees Association doubled its previous salary request – to a 7-percent pay hike demand — in a bargaining session Monday.

County negotiators, led by County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton, appeared flabbergasted.

Then they refused to give an inch.

“That was not what I expected,” Carlton said.

“If you go back four years ago, they weren’t requesting any increase in base pay, then just a few weeks ago, they were requesting 3.5 percent. And now they want 7 percent, so it’s double in just a few weeks.”

Ultimately, the two sides agreed to await a closed-door meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15, one that would include all five members of commissioners’ court.

Carlton and Commissioner Jody Crump make up the county’s negotiating committee.

For the third consecutive bargaining meeting, Greg Cagle, the deputies’ League City lawyer, threatened to declare an impasse. An impasse would turn over to a third-party arbitrator the decision on in-dispute terms of the pact between the county and deputies.

Historically, arbitration decisions favor law enforcement unions.

Carlton, Crump and outside attorney Bettye Lynn of Fort Worth got past the union’s threat to walk away July 26 by offering to up the deputies’ pay hike from 3.5 percent to 5 percent and agreeing to make up for certificate pay lost since June.

Both Carlton and Sgt. Jimmy LeBouef, president of the deputies’ association, went away from the July 26 meeting expressing hope the sides could agree on their first new contract since 2009.

That contract expired in 2013 and negotiations since have been unsuccessful.

Subsequently, the 140 deputies, dispatchers and jail nurses belonging to the Employees Association have had no across-the-board pay raises since 2013, though they have had tenure-related increases on the Sheriff’s Office Pay Matrix.

They have also continued to have the county pay 60 percent for association members’ dependent health insurance costs since 2013, when the county lowered its contribution to 40 percent for the county’s 250 non-union employees.

The deputies have long offered to increase their dependent health insurance commitment from 40 percent to 60 percent in negotiations between 2013 and the current series of 10 meetings that began in April. Cagle and Philpott have repeatedly referred to it in interviews this year, citing it as a show of good faith in negotiations.

But Monday, Cagle cited the change in insurance payments as a reason the deputies didn’t think a 5 percent pay raise – the same as given to the county’s 250 non-union employees in the 2017-18 budget – was enough.

Besides pay, a major sticking point for the union has been retiree health insurance benefits. The decision on an April grievance filed by the deputies over the retiree sliding scale passed by the county last fall could solve that.

But Cagle said deputies want certificate pay reinstated during a “hiatus” until that decision, something the full commissioners’ court must vote on.