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Kandiyohi Co. goes to mediation with union for police

WILLMAR -- For the first time in two decades, Kandiyohi County will be going to mediation to try to reach a one-year contract agreement with the Law Enforcement Labor Services union.

The all-day mediation session is scheduled for Thursday between the county and three units of the union, including deputies, dispatchers and correctional officers.

Each unit will meet separately with the county and an independent mediator who will talk with both sides to find mutual agreement for the 2011 contract.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said he's hopeful a resolution can be reached.

The county began negotiating with the union last July, but an agreement was not reached.

The county did, however, reach a one-year contract agreement last fall with the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees, which includes family services, public health and public works employees.

That agreement included additional personal leave and sharing of health insurance cost increases between the county and employees but no cost-of-living increase.

That's the same proposal that had been offered to the law enforcement employees.

"We try to treat our employees equitably," said Kleindl, adding that the separate contracts aren't "boiler plate" duplicates but are similar. "Consistency is the key here."

In past contracts, if one group of county employees received a different salary or benefits package than another, adjustments were made in the future to bring the groups in line.

"We try to make sure to stay similar across the board," he said.

The county sought only a one-year contract with employees to allow some flexibility given the tight state and county budgets, Kleindl said.

The county hired Susan Hansen from the law firm of Madden Galanter Hansen, which specializes in labor law, to represent them during the mediation process.

If mediation fails, the next step is binding arbitration. The last time the county used arbitration was in 1986.

Kleindl said by the time the 2011 contract is settled with the law enforcement union, it will be time to begin the negotiating process for the 2012 contracts.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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