9/19/07

FOP taps outsiders for County Board picketing

A disagreement over salaries will send McLean County (IL) sheriff’s deputies and the county government into arbitration. The nearly yearlong struggle between the 47 deputies and sergeants in the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 176 and the county to agree on a labor contract was a prominent feature of the County Board’s meeting Tuesday.

While the board spent roughly 40 minutes in executive session to discuss collective bargaining issues related to the deputies, about 40 people staged an informational picket outside the Government Center, 115 E. Washington St., Bloomington.

Becky Dragoo, field supervisor for the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, spoke on behalf of union members stationed at East and Front streets, holding signs asking for a fair contract and wages. McLean County deputies were joined by other deputies and supporters from other unions, including ones in Sangamon County and Chicago.

Dragoo said the major division comes down to economic issues and that the sheriff’s department has a “revolving door” when it comes to hiring. She said in the last five years, the department has seen 18 deputies leave for other departments.

“This is about pay disparities,” Dragoo said. “McLean County deputies are 20 to 25 percent behind other departments in salary.”

Deputies and sergeants in McLean County trail similar counties by $10,000 to $20,000 in annual salary, she said. A Bloomington police officer with five years of service earns more than a McLean County deputy with 20 years of service, she said.

Dragoo also cited disparities between McLean and other counties.

County Board Chairman Matt Sorensen said the comparison between McLean County and Bloomington is inappropriate because Bloomington has home-rule authority, which gives it more latitude in levying taxes, and the county does not.

“They have a whole different set of raising the funds to pay for their police officers,” Sorensen said. “In county government we are limited.”

Sorensen said the county has made several offers during the course of negotiations.

“We’ve made every effort to negotiate fairly and we will continue to do so,” Sorensen said. “We’ve put some really nice offers on the table.”

The two sides will go to arbitration scheduled for Oct. 2 and Oct 29.

McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery said he is hopeful the issue will be resolved during the first meeting.

“I’m certainly anxious to get this settled,” Emery said.

(pantagraph.com)

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