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Spokane County jail unions still weighing merger

Layoff plan depends on groups combining

Local unions for two groups of Spokane County corrections deputies will go ahead with county-requested merger discussions despite layoffs, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Tuesday’s announcement that 57 of their members will be laid off June 16 threatened to derail a merger meeting scheduled tonight.

Gordon Smith, the union staff representative for deputies at the Spokane County Jail, said Tuesday that the layoffs might “put a different spin on things.”

Members of Local 492 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees already were irritated with Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich for publicly accusing them of blocking needed reforms.

Knezovich said jail union members were “extremely resistant” to merging with Local 492-GCO, which represents corrections deputies at Geiger Corrections Center. Unless the unions merge, supervisors can’t transfer deputies between the facilities to accommodate staffing needs.

Knezovich also said he had been unable to persuade Local 492 to accept the more efficient 12-hour shifts in use by every other Sheriff’s Office union. Jail deputies consider their Geiger counterparts “less competent and qualified,” Knezovich said.

Before county commissioners approved the layoff of 30 Geiger deputies and 14 jail deputies, Local 492 President Tim Wirun said in a news release that there was no animosity between the groups. As evidence, he pointed to tonight’s merger meeting.

Wirun said his local also would give “full consideration” to 12-hour shifts if shown they would save money and allow “an appropriate degree of training.”

Smith said union members “don’t see the same urgency that management does,” but “we all are obligated to bargain in good faith, so in that spirit we are exploring this.”

Three other sets of AFSCME corrections locals – cooks, nurses and support staff – already have merged, but Smith said the differences between the corrections deputy locals “seem more significant.”

He said training is a big issue because the jail and Geiger deputies’ work and training are different even if their pay and titles are the same.

“The importance of that is safety,” Smith said.

Seniority also is a key issue, he said. That was underscored by the layoffs.

If the locals had been merged, different people likely would have been laid off based solely on hire dates. As it was, 14 layoffs at the main jail and 30 at Geiger were determined by separate seniority lists at each facility.

The jail union will lose 10 percent of its members; the Geiger union, more than 40 percent.

One way to address the ticklish seniority issue would be to merge the units but not the seniority lists. The separation could be indefinite or for a fixed period.

Any change would require approval by each local’s members, Smith said.

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