After seven months of negotiations, Umatilla County and members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees agreed on a labor contract.

The county board of commissioners on Wednesday, Dec. 7, voted 2-0 to ratify the three-year deal that includes cost of living increases of 2 percent each year for the 110 members in the local. The contract is effective retroactively to July 1, 2016 and runs through June 30, 2019.

Bargaining began May 9. Seth Moore was the AFSCME representative at the table for the employees and took to Facebook to provide updates on the negotiations. He also used those updates to criticize the county’s team for a lack of readiness and dragging out the process. On Aug. 31, both teams asked for a mediator to step in and help and Commissioner George Murdock reported in October that negotiations broke down.

Commissioner Larry Givens said pay was the hurdle that caused the need for outside help. The union wanted more than the county could afford, he said, and both sides were prepared to walk out of the talks.

Moore agreed pay was an issue. He said the union would like to see Umatilla County provide pay comparable to counties with similar populations, such as Polk, Benton and Coos counties. Moore called the contract a compromise, but one the members ratified.

County commissioners in July 2015 gave county-wide elected officials a cost-of-living increase of 3 percent and increased their own pay 7.5 percent, making their salary $86,273 a year. The increases made the commissioner pay comparable to what Benton County pays commissioners at the top of its scale and about $20,000 more than what Polk and Klamath counties pay theirs.

Labor negotiations always give employees and management angst, Givens said, and agreeing on a new contract is a relief. Commissioner Bill Elfering said if neither side gets everything it wanted, it’s probably a good deal.

“I think that’s probably the case here,” he said.

The matter of insurance, though, is going to bring both sides back to the bargaining table in 2017. The county’s carrier, LifeWise Health Plan of Oregon, is pulling out of the state’s insurance market. Jennifer Blake, the county’s human resources director, said there are at least five insurance companies the county can turn to, and staff are working on seeking bids as soon as possible.

Robert Pahl, the county’s chief financial officer, added the county is facing a “substantial increase” in the cost health insurance of at least 15 percent.

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