Employees with the Iron County Sheriff’s Office packed the Parowan courthouse Monday, Oct. 12, during the Iron County Commission meeting in a show of solidarity and to express their unhappiness with recent actions of the county commissioners. The group was there to protest a proposed resolution the commissioners planned to pass rejecting labor unions or collective bargaining in Iron County.
The commissioners proposed the resolution in response to the recent announcement by the sheriff’s office that they had joined the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union. It was also in opposition to a resolution submitted by union representative Justin Miller that if signed, would acknowledge the employees’ right to collectively bargain.
The commissioners’ resolution laid out the reasons why they would not recognize any collective bargaining unit, stating that they found it to be “contrary to effective personnel management in Iron County” and “to the public interest in having an effective and fiscally responsible government.”
Despite those in attendance to protest the resolution, the Commission unanimously approved it. After seconding Commissioner Alma Adams—who moved to approve the resolution—Commissioner Dave Miller said he did not want the resolution to be misunderstood.
“Nothing in this resolution do we want misconstrued that we don’t support the freedom to assemble, to get together as they’d like to, however they’d like to,” Dave Miller said, “but given the nature of the collective bargaining component and how that affects public employees of Iron County and the taxpayers, I will second that motion.”
Justin Miller had been previously slated to address the Iron County Commission at Monday’s meeting regarding his own resolution, but he was taken off the agenda Friday afternoon, Oct. 9, and moved out two weeks.
While Justin Miller said he still plans to address the Commission in the next meeting, he and several deputies took the opportunity to speak during the public comment period of Monday’s meeting.
“The purpose of collective bargaining is not for the wage but to improve the working conditions and morale of employees,” Justin Miller said.
He also encouraged the commissioners to reconsider their resolution, stating that he knows that other Iron County employees are also unhappy. He later confirmed that county employees outside of the sheriff’s office had contacted him.
Quoting former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Justin Miller told the commissioners that where “collective bargaining is forbidden, freedom is lost.”
Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff told the crowd that one of the reasons he and his fellow commissioners were not going to support collective bargaining is because they believe they can talk to the sheriff and get the same results during the budget process.
Brinkerhoff said the commissioners are more than willing to sit at the table with the sheriff and discuss the issues at hand as he represents his people.
However, Sheriff Mark Gower disagreed, saying he had tried multiple times to talk with the commissioners but that they had made no strides in that direction for more than a year.
Justin Miller said he had also tried several times in the last few months to talk with the commissioners to discuss what was happening and to see if they could work something out before things got out of hand.
“I have tried for months to talk with these guys,” he said. “They won’t return my calls. I have been totally ignored.”
Sgt. Nic Johnson with the Iron County Sheriff’s Office said he found Brinkerhoff’s comment “insulting,” saying the sheriff’s office had tried to have a conversation about wages for four years and other issues for the last year.
“We’ve tried talking to these guys,” Johnson said. “They won’t talk to us. We’ve been hearing for four years they are going to correct the issues, and nothing has been done. If anything, it’s gotten worse.”
In records received from the County through a government records request, Johnson said he found that there are deputies making more money than sergeants and corporals and almost as much as lieutenants.
Gower also addressed the commissioners Monday regarding wage issues, referring to a study he had conducted that showed his deputies—who have not received a cost-of-living increase since 2003—make the lowest wages of any other police agency in the county and many in the region. He said that many of his deputies even qualify for government assistance such as food stamps.
Gower was scheduled to provide this same information during an Iron County Commission meeting a few months ago, but as with Justin Miller, he had been removed from the agenda the Friday before by the Commission, who said in an email to Gower that he had “nothing of value to add to the conversation at this time.” The comment was made in reference to an ongoing wage study that was being conducted at the time by an outside consultant.
Besides low and inconsistent wages, other reasons cited by Gower for the sheriff’s office joining the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union included continued policy changes that deputies felt put their jobs at risk and fear of retaliation. Gower used the example of former deputy Lt. Jody Edwards, a 23-year veteran with the sheriff’s office and director over the ambulance service who was terminated by the Iron County Commission after they sold the ambulance service to Gold Cross.
“[Employees] decided to join the union after they saw what happened to Lt. Edwards,” Gower said. “That was, above all, the number one reason for joining. It scared them, and they saw how the commissioners were stripping the power away from the elected leaders. It’s not just me. It’s all the elected leaders, and they should all be concerned and standing up for their rights.”