PARIS — Deputies from the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office held a protest Tuesday morning to highlight their ongoing labor dispute with the county.

Around 10 deputies and members of Teamsters Local 340 marched in front of the Oxford County Courthouse on Western Avenue to bring attention to the ongoing battle to raise their wages.

Deputies have not had a contract since it expired in December 2011, and have not had a pay raise in four years.

After declining to comment publicly on negotiations for months, union representatives said the impasse over wages left them with no alternatives but to protest.

Sgt. Tim Ontengco, who has been with the sheriff’s since 1991, said Tuesday, “It’s hard. Our main goal is to protect folks. We don’t want to be here today.

The union, according to Teamsters Local 340 representative Ray Cote, 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.

Despite receiving the same training and certification as other counties and an greater workload from the discontinuance of call-sharing with Maine State Police, deputies are underpaid, Cote said.

“We want the county to step up to the plate,” he said.

Oxford County commissioners, who declined to comment on negotiations, are reportedly countering with a $1-per-hour raise, Cote said.

Two of the 19 members make the bottom rate of $14.97 an hour, the second lowest among five neighboring counties. Most earn more than $17 an hour.

Cote said both sides had dug in to their positions, but there was likely a dollar figure which could eventually lead to a compromise, though he declined to comment on a specific number.

The union has pitched the idea of funding wage increases through a $716,000 annual revenue stream the county receives from the Oxford Casino.

However, on Tuesday, Commissioner Caldwell Jackson of Oxford shot that idea down, saying he could not justify allocating casino revenue to employee wages because it is primarily used to offset projected tax increases for residents.

Salary is part of the overall package of benefits deputies receive. According to County Administrator Scott Cole, while wages have remained frozen, health insurance plans have increased in value every year.

Last August, deputies voted to disband the independent Oxford County Deputies Association, which negotiated new contracts with the county, and join Teamsters Local 340.

In November, after a lengthy lapse at the negotiating table, the two sides met to hammer out a new deal. 

It appeared as though a new contract was likely in April, but when the sides met last month neither was willing to budge on wages, Cote said. No future negotiations have been planned.

Salary is one piece of the overall wage dispute irking deputies, according to Teamster shop steward Mike Halacy.

Most deputies, according to Halacy, augment their wages by signing up for overtime shifts patrolling the Canadian border. Patrols are fully-funded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Operation Stonegarden, first enacted in 2004, which pays local police to help prevent illegal border crossings between Maine and Canada.

Deputies could count on two to three seven- to eight-hour border patrol shifts a month, which were assigned based upon seniority, according to Chief Deputy Hart Daley.

County and deputy participation in the program was voluntary, but unless scheduling conflicts arose, the patrols were considered lucrative. The overtime could bring in several hundred dollars more each month, Daley said.

In June, Gallant canceled all overtime patrols for July and August following a ruling from a county labor consultant that patrols were not being assigned according to the contract.

To abide by the ruling, each deputy would have to be called to confirm which of the proposed 74 shifts met their schedule. The task would amount to over 50 hours of work a month, time he simply didn’t have, Gallant said.

However, the union has decried the decision as “retaliation” against deputies for filing grievances with the sheriff, and in July, the union filed a complaint with the Maine Labor Relations Board.

Halacy declined to make public emails and “other evidence” cited as evidence in the complaint until examined by the Maine Labor Relations Board. A meeting has not been scheduled.

Gallant said he hopes to reinstate the program, but is waiting until a contract is struck to redefine the scheduling process.

“I support these guys. I want better pay for the deputies,” he said.

Though the Operation Stonegarden patrols are outside the purview of contract negotiations, according to Cote, the loss in overall pay is affecting morale.

“It’s money out of the pockets of these members who lay their life on the line every day. They need to be compensated,” he said.


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