Orange County sheriff's deputies on Monday overwhelmingly approved a two-year wage package described as a hard-fought compromise that will give officers an overall pay raise of 14.25% by November, 1989.
The new contract, which ends more than three months of escalating tension that included an eight-day work slowdown, was approved 367 to 43 in separate meetings Monday. The pact is scheduled for final approval by the Board of Supervisors today.
"This was a real test of wills," said Robert MacLeod, general manager of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. "The fact is that we've got a contract. We aren't going to brag about it; we're not going to apologize for it."
The tentative agreement was reached Thursday after three days of marathon bargaining that began when the county increased its wage offer on the eve of a planned walkout by deputies. On Monday, both sides described the result of their talks as a compromise.
'Classic . . . Encounter'
MacLeod said that the union had hoped for more money but that the difference was not enough to justify a major job action. Supervisors' Chairman Roger R. Stanton called the talks "a classic collective bargaining encounter."
The agreement was also watched closely by the seven other county employee groups still negotiating contracts.
Leaders of other unions vowed that they would not accept an offer below the wage settlement reached with deputies. "We're not going to settle for less," said Fred Lowe, director of the Service Employees International Union.
But county officials Monday distinguished between the deputies' settlement and possible wage offers to any other county labor group. "There shouldn't be any expectations just because one unit got what it got," county labor negotiator David M. Carlaw said.
The greatest change made to the deputies' wage package is in the first year of the contract. Previously, the county had offered either a 3.5% raise in April, 1988, or a $1,000 lump-sum payment in January.
The union had demanded a 4.25% raise, retroactive to July.
Under the current agreement, the deputies will get a raise of 3% starting Thursday and a lump-sum payment of $361 by Dec. 31. The $361 represents the equivalent of a 3% raise retroactive to July, MacLeod said.
The agreement also includes raises of 3.25% in July, 1988; 4% in April, 1989, and 4% in August, 1989. The contract expires Nov. 2, 1989.
The monthly salary for Orange County deputies now ranges from $2,220 to $2,983.
The agreement also granted one of the deputies' most critical demands: allowing the union to buy a medical plan for the deputies beginning in July, 1988. Union officials figure that they can get the same health benefits offered under the current county plan but at a lower cost because the average age of the deputies is much lower than that of all county employees.
Deputies now pay $90 per month under the medical plan supplied by the county. That cost could be significantly reduced or eliminated if the union buys its own plan, MacLeod said.
"I think there are things about the contract that are very good; there are things that are marginal," MacLeod said. "The first year could be better; 3% is nothing our negotiating team is crowing about.
"But 11.25% over the last 12 months is going to be very good. And getting the medical coverage is going to be very good."
MacLeod also said the union did not get all it wanted in extra pay for specialty officers, such as helicopter crews and bomb squad members. The settlement for those groups is "not sufficient, but it's a foot in the door," he said.
County officials declined to reveal what the settlement cost the government. Carlaw said disclosing the amount "could be detrimental to our position" in other labor negotiations.
County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish and Stanton said, however, that some of the money for the settlement included unanticipated state money recently approved by the Legislature.
"When you spend money, it obviously means that you can't spend that money elsewhere," Stanton said. "It means there will be less money in other areas."
Union leader Lowe called the deputies' agreement "a decent settlement, all things considered." But he and other union leaders said the county "had better" be prepared to offer their members at least as much money.
Lowe said his group and others will be requesting meetings with the county in the next two weeks and asking for an equal wage package. If the county declines, Lowe said, at least five of the unions will meet again to discuss strategy.
John Sawyer, general manager of the 6,500-member Orange County Employees Assn., warned Monday that "any attempt on the part of an employer to do less with other bargaining units could start a firestorm of trouble."
But Stanton, Parrish and Carlaw said the deputies' settlement is not a precedent for the other groups.
"Our county negotiators don't follow any kind of stencil pattern from one union to another," Stanton said.