June 25, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Union County courthouse employees, including the sheriffs department and jail employees, have voted to reject a three-year contract offered by the county.

The major sticking point has been an increase in the employees share of the cost of health insurance, said the countys Administrative Officer Marlene Perkins, who negotiates for the county.

The union representative, Roger Bouch of the Pendleton office of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was out of town until next week and could not be reached for comment.

County and employee representatives will meet again July 10.

Perkins said the union has a no-strike clause.

Although the county has offered to add $48 per employee per month to its insurance contribution, the insurance cost to employees will offset the 3 percent cost-of-living increase offered by the county. Some employees could see a net loss of about $50 a month.

The countys health insurer is raising rates that, under the current plan, will force employees to contribute $274 per month for full family coverage, up from the current employee responsibility of $139 monthly.

In addition to the sheriffs department employees, AFSCME covers county employees who work in the offices of planning, tax assessment, the district attorney, the clerk and building maintenance. About 50 employees belong to the union.

Perkins declined to comment on the options that may be included as the contract discussions progress. But she did say that there are always a whole lot of ways to negotiate.

Public works employees, including those who work for the road department, are covered by another union. Those employees have not yet signed the tentative agreement offered by the county.

Perkins said that rarely do the county and its employees reach an impasse on a contract. The most recent conflict occurred during the early 1980s, she said, when the contract between public works employees and the county went to arbitration.

This is the first time the courthouse employees have not voted to accept a contract, Perkins said.