Press-Republican

October 25, 2013

Franklin County balks at sheriff's union contract

Fact-finder will hear merits of each side, offer compromise

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Franklin County rejected a contract with its Sheriff’s Department union over hazard pay that would have pushed raises the final year to 4.5 percent.

Thursday’s vote, held during a special meeting, was 4-3, with Legislators Gordon Crossman (D-Malone), Sue Robideau (R-Brushton), Paul Maroun (R-Tupper Lake) and Timothy Burpoe (D-Saranac Lake) voting against it.

Those in support of the contract were Marc “Tim” Lashomb (R-Malone), Guy “Tim” Smith (D-Fort Covington) and Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay).

All seven legislature seats are up for re-election on Nov. 5, and Crossman, Robideau and Lashomb have challengers.

Burpoe is not seeking re-election, and Maroun, Jones and Smith are running unopposed for new three-year terms.

HAZARD PAY

The contract issue now goes to a fact-finder, who will hear the rationale for each side’s position on the negotiations and make a non-binding settlement recommendation.

Both sides will vote on the revised offer. If it is rejected by either side, the county then imposes a zero raise and the union continues under the old contract’s terms until a new deal is ratified.

The 60-member United Public Service Employees Union approved the new contract proposal on Oct. 16. It included no raise the first year, 2 percent in both years two and three and 2.5 percent in the fourth year.

But the sticking point was a new pay category in the proposed contract that added hazard or location pay retroactive to Aug. 21.

It would pay each employee 20 cents per hour worked from that date on in 2013, 30 cents per hour worked in 2014 and 35 cents per hour worked in 2015, said County Manager Thomas Leitz.

Jail employees work an average of 2,040 hours a year, so the new pay category would add about $700 to each person’s pocket, he said.

But location pay also applies to any overtime hours worked, so the cost would end up being even higher.

SAME HEALTH INSURANCE

The contract offer also would have brought the Sheriff’s Department union into the same health-insurance program as the county’s larger employee union.

But since the new pact was not reached, the jail employees will continue to be covered under their existing health-care plan.

Leitz said he set aside $100,000 in the 2014 tentative budget for the proposed raises. But he is still working on establishing the health-insurance rates, so he did not have an exact figure on how much more it will cost the county without the new contract at a lower health-insurance rate.

He said the money set aside for raises would be transferred into the health-insurance line item of the budget to cover the higher costs there.

Legislators hope to discuss and adopt that new rate schedule for active and retired employees during a special meeting called for 9 a.m. Monday in the fourth-floor Legislature chambers of the County Courthouse.

‘A FAIR DEAL’

“This is extremely disappointing,” said union representative Phil Sedlock.

“We felt this was a fair deal, especially since these employees have not had a raise for 20 months. The drug-and-alcohol policy the county wanted is part of it now and the change in medical insurance that was important to them.”

The union members “are some of the lowest paid in the state,” Sedlock said, “and I thought it was fair to give them a little extra going forward when they haven’t had a raise in 20 months.

“It was a little more to pay them for what they have to put up with,” he said.

OPPOSING VIEWS

Lashomb voted for the settlement because union members had their anticipated raise in 2011 taken back, and the health-insurance savings under the larger union’s plan would cancel out the cost of the new location-pay category.

“It appears we’re being very generous, but we’ll save money in the end,” he said.

Robideau said she could not agree to the 2 percent, 2 percent and 2.5 percent raises in the life of the contract because it would be more like 3.3 percent, 4 percent and 4.5 percent with the location raise added in.

“In these economic times, we can’t afford a 3 percent increase for anybody,” she said.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com