PARIS — Sheriff’s deputies appear to be no closer to resolving their contract dispute with the county after commissioners rejected a mediator’s wage recommendation.  

Sheriff’s deputies expressed their frustration with negotiations in a news release issued Saturday that took aim at county officials for failing to agree to a fact-finding panel’s compromise that would see the two sides ink a new deal for the first time in three years. 

The report was sent to the two sides on Jan. 29 but not made public until now pursuant to a month-long cooling-off period during which the two sides try to come to terms. It sought to remedy long-outstanding issues by solving disputed areas of the contract. The panel, which the county requested for mediation, makes non-binding recommendations as a precursor to arbitration. 

Shop steward Mike Hallacy said the union was willing to accept the report in full, including issues which the panel sided with the county, such rejecting constraints on conducting lie-detector tests and assignment of new employees be reviewed and approved by commissioners. 

“…Deputies, corporals and sergeants of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office feel they are being treated unfairly by the Oxford County Commissioners because they are choosing to not follow the reasonable results of the impartial Fact Finders panel,” Hallacy said in a statement. 

Wages, the only unresolved issue, are a lingering gulf between the sides. Deputies have asked for a $3 an hour raise across the board for union and nonunion officers, with three percent raises each year for union employees. The county countered with a $1 raise and one and a half percent raises.

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The Maine Labor Relations Board’s three-member panel split the difference with a $2 an hour wage raise retroactive to last July, with subsequent a two and a half percent raise the next year, and a three percent raise in the third year according to a report emailed to reporters late Saturday night. They also recommended an immediate $2,250 payment to union employees and for those working night shifts to be paid 50 cents more per hour.

The raises are in line with the county’s ability to pay, given their fiscal condition and an $800,000 annual revenue stream from the Oxford Casino, according to the panel. 

Sheriff’s deputies have been without a contract since December 2011. In the three-year span since it expired, they have been working under the terms of the old deal. Deputies patrol 36 towns and 19 organized and unorganized townships throughout the county. 

On July 15, the dispute came to a head after deputies picketed in the parking lot outside the county courthouse

Deputies contend the raises adjust their pay to cost-of-living increases in the years since, and that starting wages are among the lowest in the neighboring counties. Basic starting pay is $14.97 an hour, the second-lowest among five neighboring counties. However, just two of 19 deputies earn the bottom wage, with most making more than $17 an hour.

The county also contends that the casino revenue should be used to hold down the property tax rate on residents. 

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“While concurring with most recommendations issued by fact finders, commissioners do not support that portion of the report dealing with wages,” County Administrator Scott Cole said. Commissioners will meet privately Tuesday, March 17, to discuss contract issues.

In December, the two sides sat down before the fact-finding panel with the hopes of bridging the divide. Since the panel’s report, Teamsters Local 340 representative Ray Cote said that the sides have met once, with the county proposing — and deputies rejecting — an improved $1.50 an hour offer with a $600 signing bonus and no retroactive pay. 

Deputies, Cote said, will hold out until the county’s offer matches that of the mediators. 

Editor’s note: This is a corrected version of the story.

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