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Oxford deputies to vote on new union
PARIS -- Oxford County Sheriff's deputies are set to begin voting on whether to drop their current bargaining agent and join the Teamsters Union Local 340.
A petition for a bargaining agent election, signed by Ray Cote, the teamster's business agent, was submitted to the Maine Labor Relations Board in late June.
According to Marc Ayotte, MLRB executive director, ballots were sent Wednesday to members of the Oxford County Deputies Association, the current bargaining agent for the department's patrol deputies, corporals and sergeants.
Association members can vote to either remain with the association, be represented by the Teamsters or have no representation. Ballots will be counted Aug. 27.
According to association President Josh Wyman, the decision to vote on new representation stemmed from the protracted contract negotiations with the Oxford County Commission, which have been ongoing for nearly two years.
"We're police officers, not labor negotiators," Wyman said. With the impasse in negotiations, deputies began looking for other representation to help move the process along, he explained.
Deputies have been represented by the association for at least 15 years, Wyman said.
Reached at the Teamsters Local 340 offices in Portland, Cote said the union was approached by the association for assistance.
"They've been negotiating for a long time," he said. "I think they've done an excellent job so far, but they just felt like in order to get over the hump and get a contract they needed somebody to come and help them."
Cote said that more than 50 percent of the officers represented by the association chose to sign cards expressing interest in joining the Teamsters, allowing the union to begin the certification/decertification process with the MLRB.
Teamsters Local 340 also represents the Paris and Norway police departments, Cote said.
The previous contract between the commissioners and the association expired Dec. 31, 2011, but is still being used until an agreement is reached.
Recent mediation failed to reach an agreement and the issue will now go to an unbiased fact-finding process, Wyman said.
Compensation, specifically the hourly wage for deputies, corporals and sergeants, is the main sticking point in the negotiations, he said.
According to figures complied by the association, Oxford County deputies are the lowest-paid hourly-rate police officers in the county and possibly Androscoggin and York counties, Wyman said.
Oxford County Administrator Scott Cole said the commissioners were taking the deputies' entire compensation package into account during the negotiations.
"When you stack everything up, wages, benefits, working conditions, overtime, opportunities, we believe the compensation package is highly competitive," Cole said.
The purpose of the fact-finding, Wyman said, is to determine if the association's numbers on different hourly rates of other departments are accurate.
"At this point, I'd say we're not even close to coming to any sort of agreement," Wyman said.