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May 2013 Column - Many sides involved in contract negotiations


OFFICE HIGHLIGHTS

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By a more than 2-to-1 margin, CSEA members, Erie County’s largest union, rejected the most recent contract presented to them by the county executive. While I was disappointed, I wasn’t overly surprised.

In three attempts and two administrations, the two sides could not find common ground and finalize an agreement. The two most recent contracts were presented by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and to his credit, the contracts presented were fair to taxpayers, the funding source of these contracts. Based on the trend in each subsequent contract, I have some trepidation going forward that finding common ground for all parties — the administration, the union members and other taxpayers — will be more difficult.

When finalizing any governmental contract terms, it is critical to be mindful of those truly paying the bill — the taxpayers. Too many concessions could create an unaffordable agreement. I am concerned that the next version of the contract might not be as mindful of taxpayers.

One issue that any new contract must address is employee health care costs, which rise every year and are a large percentage of the county’s budget. In the last contract, changes to health care contributions would not have taken effect until 2017. I believe that in order to help control health care costs, we have to make immediate changes. As everyone knows, costs for everything are going up, and health care is no exception. However, many public employees continue to receive benefits that are not afforded to those in the private sector. I understand that the hardworking members of the CSEA perform critical services for the county and haven’t had a pay increase since 2006. I appreciate their dedication and am sympathetic to their concern. However, with another failed vote, union members will continue to work under the terms of the expired contract. They deserve a new contract just as much as other taxpayers of Erie County.

In my job as Erie County legislator, I have to look at this issue from all sides. When a contract is finally ratified by the CSEA members, it will come to the Legislature for final approval. When I prepare to vote on this issue, I need to be sure it is affordable for taxpayers in the short term and long term.

I was in support of many of the aspects of the two denied contracts, acknowledging that both sides were being asked to make concessions. However, in the weeks leading up to this recent vote, the county executive asked the Legislature to approve a 22.5 percent raise for one specific appointed employee in his budget office. This request was absurd, and the timing was inappropriate and disrespectful of the process that was under way between the administration and the union. I don’t think it is fair to give one appointed employee such a large increase when asking the largest public sector union to make concessions.

Going forward, I am not certain what it will take for the CSEA and administration to agree, but holding a final vote as a member of the Legislature, I will be looking for a contract that respects all taxpayers and the future of Erie County.