By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — City of Plattsburgh councilors have rejected a request for a 1.5 percent raise for union workers in a one-year deal.
“We’re disappointed with that, but it was not unexpected,” Union President Chris Bleaux said.
Members of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees Local 788 have been working under the provisions of a contract that was to expire June 30, 2009. There have been several attempts to reach a new deal, but none have been successful so far.
The city offered an agreement in February 2011, but it never went forward, and the union and city argued over who was responsible for the proposal dying on the vine.
A recent report from a neutral fact-finder from the state’s Public Employees Relations Board said in part, “each party has a different story to tell over whether, in fact, an agreement was reached and why bargaining broke down at the point which the parties were certainly close to an agreement.”
From there, the negotiations went to a mediator, but nothing was resolved. The fact-finder was then brought in, and his recent report suggested some compromises.
The fact-finder recommended a five-year deal with raises of 1.5, 1.5, 2, 2.5 and 2.5 percent.
The city was seeking 1 percent for each of the five years, while the union sought raises of 2 percent the first year and 2.5 percent the next four years.
In the February 2011 proposal, the city had offered higher raises but then lowered them in subsequent negotiations in light of the state’s newly imposed tax-levy cap that year.
“We just could no longer afford it,” Mayor Donald Kasprzak said.
The fact-finder also recommended that all union employees contribute to health-insurance premiums starting with 5 percent in 2009, 10 percent in 2010 and 15 percent in 2011 and forward.
Now, all 18 employees hired before May 25, 1993, pay nothing for health insurance, while all others pay 15 percent. The city wanted all employees to pay 15 percent immediately.
The fact-finder also recommended that all retirees from here on out pay a maximum of 3 percent of their retirement income for health insurance, which is not required now.
Bleaux said the union rejected the fact-finder’s report based on the retirement health-insurance payment recommendation.
“I think the fact-finder went too far with that recommendation,” Bleaux said.
“The city wasn’t asking for that.”
‘BACKS AGAINST WALL’
Bleaux said the union understands that eventually all members will have to pay something for health insurance, but they are concerned that low or no wage increases will wind up costing them money if they start paying for health insurance.
“If we can just come to a reasonable understanding, I think we will have no problem,” he said.
After the union rejected the fact-finder report, the city countered with a five-year deal with raises of 1.5, 2 percent and 0 percent for the final three years. That, too, was rejected by the union, which then offered a five-year deal with raises of 1.5, 1.5, 2, 2.5 and 2.5 percent.
Mayor Donald Kasprzak rejected that plan, which forced the council to vote on a one-year extension of the expired contract as per the Taylor Law.
The extension would keep everything in the contract the same, but the union wanted a 1.5 percent raise for that one year. The council voted unanimously against it on Nov. 1, meaning the existing expired contract will stay in place.
“Nobody was happy that it got to that point, but we had no other choice,” said Councilor James Calnon (I-Ward 4), who as mayor pro tem serves as the council’s budget officer.
“Negotiations did not yield a contract, a fact-finder did not yield a contract, and subsequent negotiations did not yield a contract, and that put our backs up against the wall.
“We will continue to negotiate, and we would dearly love to settle this contract.”
Bleaux said the lack of a new deal is getting difficult for some of the younger union employees, who only make about $13 per hour.
“It’s going on 40 months without a raise, and it is tough,” he said.
The mayor said relations with Bleaux, who took over as the union president in March when he defeated Denise Nephew in an election, have been cordial.
Kasprzak and Nephew often feuded publicly.
“I believe that we pursued this in good faith throughout the entire process, and without any hesitation, believe we did everything as reasonable as we could have to come up with a contract that we felt was fair to the taxpayers and the union members,” Kasprzak said.
“The dialogue has been good, and we will continue to work at it until we can come up with a contract that is best for everybody.”
Bleaux, too, was hopeful a deal could be worked out.
“We will keep negotiating and hopefully working off the same parameters,” he said.
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