Erie County lawmakers will decide whether to give workers in county government’s largest labor union back pay for the first year they started working under an expired contract.
Three administrations have been unable to finalize a deal with members of the Civil Service Employees Association Local 815 to extend a union contract that expired in late 2006. The union represents about 3,500 workers spread throughout county government and Erie County Medical Center.
After failing last year to get a proposal ratified by the union membership that offered pay raises in exchange for employee health insurance contributions, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has opened the door for the Legislature to impose a one-year retroactive settlement with the union for 2007.
Poloncarz wants the Legislature to approve a one-year settlement that would extend the terms of the existing contract without granting any additional pay raises for 2007 or lump sum back pay “due to the state of the county’s finances.”
“There’s no money for that,” said Peter Anderson, a spokesman for Poloncarz.
CSEA members last year voted down a proposal that would have given them cost-of-living raises totaling 11 percent for the years 2012 through 2016, as well as a signing bonus for the previous years in which employees worked under an expired contract. The rejected proposal also would have required workers to pay a portion of their health insurance costs, in addition to other concessions.
Legislators now could decide to approve Poloncarz’s request or give retroactive pay raises or a one-time bonus for 2007 – as it previously has sought to do in 2008 with another union contract – but it cannot change the terms of work rules or other areas of the contract.
CSEA workers continue to receive pay increases for length of service, but have not received cost-of-living raises since the contract expired in 2006.
The Legislature has formally received a copy of a 2011 report completed by a neutral fact finder after the union reached an impasse with county negotiators – a step necessary to allow the Legislature to impose a one-year financial settlement.
The fact finder’s report recommended that the union workers be given a lump-sum payment of 2 percent of a worker’s wages for 2007, but it also recommended a series of other contract changes, including eliminating two paid holidays, reducing personal days and shortening lunch time.
Anderson said the Poloncarz administration believes the Legislature should not impose a pay raise or bonus since such a financial settlement would not address other issues, including employee contributions for health insurance.
Joan Bender, president of CSEA Local 815, said the union reached out to legislators prior to the fact finder’s report being sent to the Legislature to communicate what it would like lawmakers to do. She declined to describe those discussions so that it did not appear as if she was trying to put public pressure on the Legislature.
Bender said the union late last year requested that Poloncarz send the fact finder’s report to the Legislature.
If the Legislature imposes a one-year settlement, the union would begin negotiating with the county again over the expired contract starting with 2008.