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The county's EMS contract delay tactics are unacceptable

For years, Pasco County's emergency workers struggled to get a fair deal from the county. Exasperated, they affiliated with a union 10 years ago. It took five long years for the Teamsters Local 444 to work out a three-year contract with the county.

In the almost two years since that contract expired, the union and the county have been at it again, with the union haggling and begging the county to get salaries more in line with others in the state by granting a measly 3 percent pay raise added to the raise other county employees are getting, and by raising certain salary caps for longtime employees.

By the looks of things, this time around, the county is trying for the Guinness Book of World Records in stalling techniques.

The latest delay turns on the length of the contract.

When negotiations began, union officials suggested the idea of a one-year contract, assuming that their modest requests would be quickly met so everyone could get back to business. Now that matters have dragged on and on and on, union leaders have proposed that the contract be extended to cover two or three years, a favor to taxpayers who are footing the county's legal bills as county negotiators drag their feet.

Not surprisingly, the county negotiators are balking, apparently willing to grasp at anything to impede the signing of a reasonable contract.

The county negotiators say that because the union agreed to a one-year contract at the start, that's the way things should stay.

The inconsistency of the county's stance is laughable.

If every element of an initial proposal were to stand, then there would be no reason to try to negotiate. Negotiation, by its very nature, means that each side may have to give up something in order to get something else it wants more. If both sides refuse to give up on a single point of disagreement, then resolution is impossible.

A cynic would say that's probably exactly what the county has in mind _ the ultimate stall.

Whatever is going on, it's not fair to either the emergency workers or to the county's residents who depend upon them. As long as the workers are distracted by the county's petty manipulation of their paychecks and working conditions, they will be hard-pressed to continue to give the 110 percent effort that Pasco residents have come to expect. To the workers' credit, there is no evidence that the bickering is interfering with their performance, but it is fair to say that the lingering impasse has done nothing to bolster employee morale.

This latest county ploy is doing nothing to resolve the matter. Instead, Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson toys with the emergency workers, suggesting the county would have been happy to negotiate the contract length _ if only the workers had brought it up earlier. As it is, he says, the county has couched its strategy around the one-year deal. To change now would be just too inconvenient, he says. Union officials say he has avoided setting a date to even discuss the matter with them.

Johnson and his boss, County Administrator John Gallagher, should rethink their position.

The time is drawing near when the Board of County Commissioners will be asked to make a decision regarding the union contract. The county negotiators owe it to their bosses to have explored in depth every possible avenue for compromise and resolution before commissioners are faced with that decision.

For the county negotiators to duck, dodge and delay is unacceptable.

And commissioners should let them know it.