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Beltrami County Board approves first union contract

Beltrami commissioners unanimously ratified Tuesday a 2011 contract for county highway workers calling for no wage increase.

It's the first settlement of the county's seven labor unions, said County Administrator Tony Murphy, with all of them operating on no contract after Dec. 31.

The contract with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, or the 49'ers, calls for no salary increase nor any additional medical insurance pay, said Human Resources Director Linda Tran.

Language that increased the county portion of health insurance from $740 to $790 a month for 2010 was formally adopted into contract language, as was a side letter allowing a County Highway Department maintenance worker to obtain licensure to handle explosives.

"We have met with five unions,""said Tran. "One, in law enforcement, is asking for mediation."

"They're going slow," Murphy said, with no talks scheduled for some of the unions. "They want to see if we can put something on the table."

Murphy said most are also asking for one-year contracts, hoping the economy will improve.

The County Board last month adopted a property tax levy that was 0.43 percent less than 2010, and commissioners expect aid cuts from the state as it battle to fill a $6.2 billion budget hole.

"It's not that we don't appreaciate the work they do, but we are between a rock and hard place," said Commissioner Jim Heltzer.

"We want to keep as many people employed as possible with no increase, or we would have to have layoffs," said Commissioner Jim Lucachick.