Lieutenants, Stanislaus County at impasse over pay

After many months of negotiations and a mediator, Stanislaus County and the union that represents sheriff's lieutenants have reached a stalemate.

The county and its lieutenants have been without a contract since Feb. 28. With the stalemate, the county says its last contract offer is what will be used to govern pay, benefits and policy.

The issue is money, and Sheriff's Department representatives say it could cause the department to lose more personnel to other departments.

Union representatives say the problem is salary "compression." The difference between lieutenants' take-home pay and the pay of the sergeants they supervise has narrowed to the point that some sergeants are making more than experienced lieutenants.

"We are falling behind the people we supervise," said Lt. Darrell Freitas, president of the Lieutenant and Custodial Lieutenant Bargaining Unit of the Stanislaus County Management Association. "There's not much spread between the top lieutenants and the top sergeants."

The unit represents 18 lieutenants in the Sheriff's Department.

Paul Konsdorf of Goyette & Associates, who represented the lieutenants in bargaining, said part of the problem is that the sergeants have their retirement benefits paid by the county, while the lieutenants, as county managers, pay into their retirement accounts. So the net pay puts some sergeants ahead of lieutenants.

The issue has caused some sergeants to balk at testing for a promotion, for fear of losing income, Konsdorf said.

Rick Robinson, Stanislaus County Chief Executive Officer, said a county analysis showed that even taking into account the retirement difference, lieutenants earn 20.9 percent more than sergeants. The county gives managers other benefits that aren't factored in, such as 40 hours of management leave, deferred compensation and professional development funds, Robinson said.

Top sergeants earn $70,138 a year while top lieutenants make $95,826. When the lieutenants' retirement contribution is factored in their annual salary drops to $84,806, Robinson said.

A small number of sergeants on special assignments such as narcotics investigation work large amounts of overtime, and do take home more than lieutenants, Robinson said. That's always been the case, he said.

"It's a function of the responsibility of management to work until the job is done at an established rate of pay," Robinson said, while sergeants are not considered management and are paid by the hour.

The county had offered a three-year contract with raises of 4 percent, 3.5 percent and 3 percent. The lieutenant's union's last offer was for 4 percent, 6.5 percent and 5 percent, with the pay raises coming later in each of the contract years.

That would save the county $5,000 over the three years of the contract, Konsdorf said. But it would cost a lot more in the long term, Robinson noted, explaining that raises would come later, but the percentages are higher.

The county is looking at the compression issue, Robinson said, and may recommend some changes in the Sheriff's Department. One solution is more staffing, he said.

"Perhaps we are short of sergeants. We could reduce the excess overtime and re-establish the differential," Robinson said.

Sheriff Adam Christianson has little authority in setting the pay rates, but he said the pay rates in general, starting with deputies, are a problem.

"I'm an advocate of competitive salary and benefits," Christianson said. "I don't want to be a training ground for other departments."

That's what's happening, however, he said. The Sheriff's Department has lost deputies to other law enforcement agencies, including police departments in Tracy, Modesto, Elk Grove, San Jose and Pleasanton, as well as the University of California at Merced, Christianson said.

The county's posted conditions give the lieutenants a 3.5 percent raise to cover the current year's contract. The two sides likely will be back at the bargaining table in January or February to negotiate the next contract.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.