Insurance language has sheriff#039;s contract at standstill

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 1, 2003

It may take a bit longer for the Lawrence County Commission to get a contract signed with employees at the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office.

After a special session Friday morning, the commission officially disagreed with the language in a fact-finder's report regarding health insurance.

The fact-finder, working to reach an agreement between the county and the sheriff's office employees, recommended that the county contribute 15 percent to the cost of health insurance for those employees who have family plan coverage and who choose the lowest insurance deductible of $250.

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This is at odds with changes the commission has made regarding health insurance for general fund employees. When the commissioners approved a new health insurance plan this year, they opted to contribute a flat amount toward each employees' monthly health insurance premium. In the past, the county has contributed a percentage toward the cost of health insurance. The change to a specific dollar amount was the commission's way of holding down increasing insurance costs and easing its effects on the county's budget.

"We're trying to get everyone on the same plan. Our hope is to have affordable health care for everyone. All other unions covered under the general fund have signed on to the county's new plan," Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens said.

Barry Gray, staff representative for the Fraternal Order of Police, Ohio Labor Council, said the union agreed with the fact-finder's report and had hoped that the commission would, too. Gray said the sheriff's office employees are trying to make ends meet as well.

"We were trying to make sure that whatever pay raise they got would not be eaten up by insurance," Gray said. "Insurance is a problem everywhere these days."

Meanwhile, the 40 road deputies, dispatchers, jailers and cooks have been working without a contract since the first of the year when the previous one expired.

Both sides say they are confident the issue can be resolved.

"Basically, we agreed with everything else in the fact finders report," Commissioner Doug Malone said. "That insurance language was the only thing we disagreed with."

Gray said if a resolution can't be reached, the matter goes to an arbitrator, whose decision is final.