Kent Approves Agreement With Deputies

August 25, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — At their last meeting before the long Labor Day weekend, county commissioners approved a four-year labor contract with the Kent County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

The agreement covers corrections officers, and the increase in wages and benefits will cost the county $4.35 million over the life of the contract.

Although the contract was approved unanimously, Commissioner Richard Vander Molen issued a warning to board members. He noted that “legacy” industries, such as automobile and airplane manufacturers, have built up wage and benefit packages for their unionized workers so high over the years that these businesses are struggling to compete today.

Vander Molen then said government has also become a legacy industry, and he included county governments in that category.

“We need to think about this,” he said.

The agreement is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2005, and runs through Dec. 31, 2008. Corrections officers will receive annual pay hikes of 2.75 percent this year, next year and in 2008. They will get a retroactive increase of 2 percent for the first six months of 2005 and 1.5 percent for the last six months.

Those increases account for $3.86 million of the total $4.35 million more the pact will cost the county. The contract will cost the county $16.45 million overall for the 242 full- and part-time officers. The membership has already ratified the agreement.

But Commissioner Gary Rolls said the board lacked information on wage and benefit plans offered to similar employees of other counties in the state. And he said they needed that data in order to compare salaries and benefits that employees in other counties get in order to make informed decisions in Kent County.

“I’m not sure how we can work with the bargaining units when we don’t have all the facts,” said Rolls.

Commissioners had a much tougher time making personnel changes at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. But after a lengthy discussion, enough voted to eliminate five sergeants from the airport’s law enforcement team and create four supervisory positions and a security coordinator post. The change will cost the aeronautics department $3,805.

Some commissioners voiced their concerns about the workers whose jobs will be erased. Commissioner Dick Bulkowski said one sergeant has put in 27 years at the airport.

The five who will lose their jobs will be given first crack at the five new positions. If they aren’t interested in the jobs or qualified for the posts, then airport officials will look to fill the positions with outside candidates.

Commissioner David Morren said the goal of the change is to add more accountability to the supervisory positions. Airport director James Koslosky said there have been problems with some employees on unsupervised shifts, and that the change was needed to create around-the-clock security coverage.

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