A proposed contract that would raise deputy sheriffs' wages 7.5 percent over the next three years was greeted warmly at Wednesday night's Lehigh County commissioners meeting, except for one holdup.
The commissioners directed the county executive, by a 7-2 vote, to renegotiate a provision that requires the county to deduct union dues for the Deputy Sheriffs Association before the commissioners vote on the contract on July 24.
Commissioner Scott Ott spearheaded the move, saying county government by statute is not required to serve as a "financial intermediary" between the union and its members.
The move to reopen negotiations was supported by commissioners Thomas Creighton III, Percy Dougherty, Vic Mazziotti, Lisa Scheller, Michael Schware and Brad Osborne, who arrived at the meeting just as the commissioners were ready to vote.
Commissioners Daniel McCarthy and David S. Jones Jr. opposed the move.
Before the vote, Michael Lakis, who organized the Deputy Sheriffs Association in 1992, told the commissioners that reopening negotiations would be "a waste of money."
He said that since talks began last year, negotiators for the county and the association "put in long hours, locked in a room, not doing our jobs, at great expense to the county."
Lakis also said of the contract, "The sell was not easy." At first, Lakis and the union negotiators believed "there were things in there that were not going to fly. … We gave our members a week to chew on it and all we got were questions, questions, questions."
Association members finally ratified the proposed contract, but there were more no votes that ever before, Lakis said. "There used to be five, six, eight no votes [on previous contracts]. We had 18 this time."
In presenting the proposed agreement to his colleagues, commissioner Mazziotti noted that the contract covering the county's 46 full-time and 55 part-time deputy sheriffs would be retroactive to Jan. 1, the day after the previous pact expired, and give the deputy sheriffs raises of 2.5 percent in each of the three years.
He also pointed out that each deputy sheriff will be paying $600 a year more in health-care coverage, thus reducing their net pay increase to about 1.5 percent a year.
According to figures in an exhibit attached to the proposed contract, full-time deputy sheriffs will make anywhere from $42,432 to $69,181 in 2013, while part-timers would earn $16.44 to $18.14 an hour.
County executive Matt Croslis said after the meeting he will try to get the association back to the negotiating table. "We have two weeks to see if we can accommodate what the commissioners want," he said. "But when you ask for something, you usually have to give up something."