PARIS — Oxford County Sheriff’s deputies are expected to picket in front of the courthouse on Western Avenue on Tuesday morning to draw attention to their labor dispute with the county. 

Deputies are asking for a contract, higher wages and a reinstatement of border patrols, according to Ray Cote, Teamsters Local 340 representative. 

The protest will begin at 8:30 a.m. outside the Oxford County Superior Courthouse. 

The dispute dates back over two and a half years when the deputies’ contract with the county expired. The lapsed contract is still being honored until a new agreement can be reached, which has effectively frozen wages at current levels.

“I respect what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to hold costs down. But they need to put aside budget concerns and pay these guys,” Cote said.

Last August, deputies voted to disband the independent Oxford County Deputies Association and join Teamsters Local 340.

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In November, the two sides met at the negotiating table after a lengthy lapse.

In April, it appeared as though a new contract was imminent, however grievances regarding scheduling overtime patrol details have since proven divisive.

In particular, talks between the two sides have stalled over wage negotiations. New patrolmen make $14.97, the second lowest among neighboring counties.

The union is asking for a $3-per-hour raise for all full-time deputies, which they estimated would cost the county an additional $24,000 a year. Cote said it could be funded through $716,000 from the Oxford Casino. 

According to pay figures provided by County Administrator Scott Cole, just two of 19 officers earn the minimum rate and most make more than $17 an hour.

Cole noted that commissioners have previously set aside casino revenue to offset taxes. A call to Commissioner Caldwell Jackson of Oxford was not returned Monday afternoon.

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According to Cote, though commissioners have offered a $1 raise in the latest round of negotiations the rate is too low for starting deputies who haven’t had a pay raise in four years and have assumed a greater workload after call sharing with Maine State Police was discontinued. 

“Seventy-five cents an hour over four years is not a lot to ask,” Cote said. 

Mike Halacy, the Teamsters shop steward, said negotiations reached an impasse and morale among officers is low.

Oxford County deputies, Halacy said, rank second to last among five neighboring counties, despite completing the same training and certification.

“I don’t want to work 80 hours a week. I want a livable wage,” Halacy said.

“We wouldn’t pay nurses or teachers as little as we pay deputies,” he said.

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The union is also protesting a decision to cut most overtime patrol shifts that often augment patrolmen’s wages. In 2014, the county budgeted $195,000 in overtime wages, most of which constitutes patrols to other governmental organizations. 

In July, the union filed a complaint with the Maine Labor Relations Board, arguing that Sheriff Wayne Gallant retaliated against disgruntled deputies by canceling overtime patrols along the Canadian border. 

In June, commissioners sided with the deputies in a grievance that said Gallant was mistaken when he scheduled a part-time deputy on a border patrol, which are usually assigned on a rotating basis, according to Oxford County Commissioner Scott Cole. 

The Operation Stonegarden patrols are part of a fully funded federal program through the Department of Homeland Security to cover remote Maine border sites in northern Oxford County. County participation in the program is voluntary. 

The complaint alleges that after commissioners sided with the deputies, Gallant canceled the participation in retaliation. 

Halacy declined to make public emails and “other evidence” until examined by the Maine Labor Relations Board.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Gallant categorically denied he had an axe to grind with deputies. Instead, Gallant said the claim was “absurd” and that he postponed participation in the voluntary program to comply with commissioners’ ruling.

“I’m amazed the Teamsters would go to the press. Normally, they go through negotiations. I find it very unusual,” Gallant said.


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