Talks between county and deputies’ union extended into 2016

Negotiations between the Deputy Sheriff’s Association and Merced County, previously expected to wrap up before the new year, have been prolonged.

Phil Brooks, president of the DSA, said the union rejected a county proposal and submitted a counterproposal Monday. The county will need time to review the proposal, which came during the week before Christmas, further prolonging negotiations.

The union and county began bargaining sessions in April to renew a contract that ended in June. Deputies hope for a pay increase while the county must consider an economy that still is slowly recovering from the recession. Sheriff’s Office employees have continued to work under the same terms and conditions through a grace period while negotiations are underway, Brooks said.

“Obviously, we would have loved to work out a contract prior to the end of the year,” Brooks said. “But we’re not disappointed. Negotiations take time. We’re pretty optimistic that we’re going to come to some type of agreement.”

The county echoed the sentiment, saying negotiations are continuing and officials hope to reach a deal soon. But spokesman Mike North said he couldn’t elaborate.

In September, sheriff’s deputies addressed the Board of Supervisors asking for better pay to retain veteran employees and boost staffing. Sheriff Vern Warnke also has said the department is seeing veteran deputies who have a wealth of experience and training leave for better-paying agencies. The losses have stretched the patrol staff.

Brooks noted that the two sides have narrowed negotiations down to specific items, compared to the overall contract.

“We’ve been agreeable to some things they want, and they’ve been agreeable to some of the things we want,” Brooks said. “We’re not that far apart on issues. I truly expect to come to some type of agreement early next year.”

North said the county also is continuing negotiations with the correctional officers unit.