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Kitsap Deputies Guild asks county commissioners to abide by court ruling
Kitsap Deputy Sheriff’s Guild President Jay Kent sent the Kitsap County Commissioners a letter Tuesday asking the County to abide the Friday ruling of Pierce County Judge James Orlando. In a lawsuit brought against the county by the Guild, Orlando found the county’s plan to retroactively increase deputy sheriff insurance payments unconstitutional.
In his letter, Kent wrote the commissioners that “the Guild is willing to sit down with the county’s negotiators and discuss future changes in insurance coverage; we cannot agree that after our deputies have performed work that they can have their wages or insurance diminished/decreased after the fact.”
Kent asked the commissioners to instruct their negotiators and attorneys to negotiate a solution instead of pursuing further litigation into the Court of Appeals. Kent also noted that the deputies have worked without a contract since the end of 2009.
Calls made to all three county commissioners — Josh Brown, Rob Gelder and Charlotte Garrido — were not returned. Kitsap County Human Resources Manager Penny Starkey also failed to respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this year, arbitrator Howell Lankford issued a decision which covered the contract for the years 2010 through 2012, but that contract and current negotiations have been complicated by one part of Lankford’s order which increased insurances costs “retroactively.”
The Guild contended that retroactive increases in deputies insurance costs were an unconstitutional “taking” of deputy wages already earned and that any increases had to occur in the future with deputies being able to opt out of the plan or opt for lower coverage.”
Guild attorney Jim Cline found Orlando’s ruling “unsurprising.”
“We’ve been telling the County for nearly a year that they couldn’t do this,” Cline said. “Judge Orlando agreed with our main point that it’s simply unconstitutional to take away deputy compensation after it’s already been earned. It also violates the State wage withholding law and other parts of the Guild contract. Both the law and the contract expressly allows deputies to opt out or change insurance coverage any time the coverage changes and here the County offered no opt out but just sought to take the money without any employee consent.”
Cline said the county did have a right to appeal within 30 days of Orlando’s ruling but that the Guild hoped it would not.
“The county had their day in court but now any appeal would create uncertainty and delay as to the parties’ labor contract,” he said.
“The Guild has invited the county to the bargaining table to discuss a resolution of this issue and we hope they accept it.”
Cline noted an appeal would probably take more than a year and would possibly interfere with the ability of the county and the deputies to get a new contract in place.
Kent said the Guild knows that insurance costs have been rising and the parties have to develop a solution but that “taking away money from employees after they’ve earned it is fundamentally unfair.”
He added that they are willing to talk to the county on the insurance issue but they “have to be willing to look at the whole contract.”
“The county has to wake up and realize that we are moving towards a staffing crisis in the Sheriff’s office,” he said.
Kent also pointed out that the Sheriff’s Office is losing two deputies to Poulsbo and that more deputies are “seriously considering” transfer to other agencies or retirement.
Kent questioned the ability of the county to recruit qualified deputies under its current 2009 contract terms.
“Law enforcement hiring is starting to pick up statewide and without a competitive contract in place, we’ll lose some of our current deputies and we won’t be able to replace them quickly,” he said.
He also expressed concern that the deputies were working understaffed and that any vacancies would add to deputy and public safety problems.