Valenzuela: Tentative deal reached with union could lead to opening of new jail by year’s end

Saying she hoped she wasn’t jinxing it, Thurston County Commission chair Karen Valenzuela told The Olympian editorial board Wednesday morning that mediation teams for the county and corrections union have reached a tentative agreement, and the deal could pave the way for the much-awaited opening of the Accountability and Restitution Center by year’s end.

Commissioners expect to sign a contract with the union next week, Valenzuela said.

“We could actually be in the jail by the end of the year,” she said.

County manager Cliff Moore confirmed that negotiation teams have “reached an agreement in principle,” but noted that there’s still a lot of work to be done on the issue.

“It hasn’t been ratified by the union, and that’s the next step,” Moore said.

He said the terms are being written up in contract form. He said he didn’t know when union members might vote on it, but said the contract would most likely be ready by Thursday for their consideration.

Meantime, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office issued this statement from Sheriff John Snaza on Wednesday afternoon: “This is very premature. Although the County Commissioners have chosen to discuss unresolved aspects of contract negotiations, the sheriff has chosen to honor the agreed upon rules of labor negotiations and mediations and not discuss portion(s) of labor talks.”

Paul Minker, president of the corrections union, said county officials shouldn’t be discussing the negotiations at all.

“It’s a long way from anything at this point and time,” he said.

Union officials haven’t seen the preliminary documents yet, and Valenzuela’s comments that a deal is close could be interpreted as an unfair labor practice, Minker said.

“The membership could turn around and vote it down,” he added.

In April, county officials said they were within weeks of closing a deal with the union to work modified 12-hour shifts. The deal would eliminate overtime, and ease up money to hire more deputies to staff the new jail.

But both sides were unable to reach an agreement.

The tentative deal was struck on Friday, Moore said.

Last Tuesday, during their weekly meeting, commissioner Cathy Wolfe said she was discouraged about the jail, and had lost faith that it was ever going to open. After the meeting, she said the new jail is an issue where the county commissioners had “divergent opinions.”

“I think all of us are discouraged that it’s taken this long,” Moore said.

The county paid $45 million to build the new 352-bed jail, which was completed in 2010, and is paying about $500,000 a year to maintain the vacant facility.

Costs associated with moving into the new jail would be covered with money that was already set aside in the 2014 budget, Valenzuela said.