Press-Republican

June 15, 2013

Administrative judge orders ORDA to enact employee contract

KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

LAKE PLACID — A ruling by an administrative judge has ordered the Olympic Regional Development Authority to implement a union contract agreement.

According to documents from a recent Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) ruling, the employment contract for ORDA’s full and part-time employees had expired in 2009. 

Negotiations gained tentative agreement for a new contract on Jan. 27, 2012.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed in the Relations Board proceeding. 

But the contract was not discussed or voted on formally by ORDA’s Board of Directors in a meeting last June, five months after negotiations ended.

ORDA CEO Ted Blazer allegedly told the workers’ union, the Civil Service Employees Association, he would put the employment contract on the board’s June agenda. But the contract was neither discussed nor put to vote.

‘WITHOUT EXCUSE’

CSEA filed a formal complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board last July.

Hearing paperwork says a violation occurred when ORDA failed to act on the contract “within a reasonable time.”

Administrative Law Judge Jean Doerr ruled in May that ORDA has to enact the collective bargaining agreement.

The Public Employment Relations Board is a quasi-judicial entity that works to mediate or otherwise arbitrate employment contract issues.

Once an administrative law judge rules on a case, it can then be appealed, seeking exception from the Employment Relations Board. If a dispute is not settled in that arena, it can then be brought to state supreme court, according to the New York State Employment Relations Act.

PERB documents indicate ORDA charged that the union failed to prove the Board of Directors was under legal obligation to “consider and act on” the tentative labor agreement.

But, Doerr said, “CSEA brought this charge against (ORDA) and not its board.” The union needed to show only that ORDA had failed to bargain in good faith, the final order said.

“Without any excuse or explanation, (ORDA) failed to consider or vote on whether or not to ratify the agreement. As a result, (ORDA) will be found to have violated the (Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act) and, by its conduct, to have waived its right to ratify the agreement … unless its defenses have merit.”

‘UNACCEPTABLE’

Contacted about the case, ORDA spokesman Jon Lundin said the Olympic Authority “does not comment on labor or contract negotiations.”

Union officials were more forthcoming.

“Health care and salary are always the sticking points in contracts,” CSEA spokesman Steve Madarasz said Wednesday.

“They went three years without coming to terms and only came to terms when the union discussed whether or not to pull out of a conference we had planned in Lake Placid (last summer),” Madarasz said.

“The leadership of ORDA was aware of the fact that we (CSEA) were considering pulling out and not bringing our business there. I don’t know that that was an absolute reason they came around. 

“But we were making it known that it was unacceptable — that it had been three years without coming to an agreement. 

“Then they reneged on the contract. At some point, you have to have faith in the system.”

So the union filed an employee relations complaint.

‘DELAYED PROCESS’

In a press release, the union said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration got involved in the legal process.

“The ruling comes despite attempts by the Cuomo administration to interfere with the case,” CSEA President Danny Donohue charged in the statement.

“Rather than both sides saying, ‘We agree on this set of facts,’ the Governor’s Office told ORDA not to agree to stipulate to any facts,” Madarasz told the Press-Republican.

“It delayed the process. It was intentional obstruction to the process. That is apparently the policy of the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, the arm of the executive branch that negotiates.”

In the press release, Donohue also said the “foot-dragging should end now.

“What ORDA did was wrong. We know it. PERB knows it. And they know it,” he said. “It’s time for them to do what’s right and implement this contract now.”

800-PLUS WORKERS

The Olympic Authority operates and manages numerous Olympic winter sports venues, including the bobsled run at Mount Van Hoevenberg, the Lake Placid McKenzie-Intervale ski jumps, the Conference Center at Lake Placid and three ski resorts: Whiteface Mountain, Gore and Belleayre.

ORDA is among the region’s biggest employers, with some 800 employees, including a large staff of seasonal workers. Many of the full-time jobs offer good pay, Madarasz said, though wages in the Olympic region are still lower than what state employees make in other parts of New York.

He said the contract in dispute represents ORDA’s full- and part-time employees — including long-term seasonal workers — and seeks to provide some modicum of health-care benefits for part-time workers.

OPERATING LOSS

ORDA’s seasonal revenue is partially dependent on winter weather to drive ski-lift ticket sales. 

And the winter season of 2011-12 was dismal, with one of the lowest snowfall totals recorded in the Northeast, resulting in a drop in ski traffic. State funding for ORDA has been cut by half in the past five years from just over $8 million to near $4 million. In March of this year, the authority’s ongoing fiscal challenge drew review from State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

A comptroller’s report outlined losses at ORDA and “a reliance on a line of credit from a private bank, among other sources, to meet its spending needs.” ORDA reported an operating loss of $16.9 million in 2012, according to the report. ORDA’s fiscal year ends in March to coincide somewhat with the ski season.

DiNapoli has launched a full audit of ORDA.

DEADLINE NEARS

ORDA has to make a decision within the next week whether to appeal the PERB decision, Madarasz said.

When asked about the process, Lundin said ORDA would not discuss the employment dispute.

But Madarasz said the Olympic Authority has not implemented the employee contract.

“Given how black and white it is, we would hope they wouldn’t drag it out further,” the union official said.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com