By Harold McNeil
News Staff Reporter
The leadership of Civil Service Employees Association Local 815 is hoping to get Erie County officials back to the negotiating table for a fifth attempt at ironing out a contract – once they figure out why the rank and file of the county’s largest bargaining unit rejected the latest tentative pact.
“We are going to have to sit down, come together and try to review the situation to determine what happened, and we hope to sit down at the negotiating table with the county to start over,” Lynn Miller, communications specialist for CSEA Western Region, said Friday.
More than 1,700 members of the union participated in balloting that took place Thursday at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew. The proposed contract was rejected in a 947-829 vote.
“The union and the county negotiated this agreement in good faith and with a focus on balancing what’s best for our members and the county,” said Denise Szymura, president of the local, in a prepared statement Friday.
“The final say is left to the membership. They have spoken through their votes. Hopefully, the county will agree to return to the bargaining table and we can start again,” Szymura added.
She also noted that Thursday’s tally was closer than previous ratification votes by the union membership.
CSEA-represented county employees – who have been working without a contract since Dec. 31, 2006 – have rejected three prior tentative contracts hammered out by union and county officials.
The contract rejected Thursday was reached two weeks ago and called for 2 percent wage increases in 2014 and 2015. Under the proposal, which would have covered the period from Jan. 1, 2008, to Dec. 31, 2015, newly hired workers would have been required to pay 15 percent of their health insurance costs.
“I am disappointed that this tentative agreement has been rejected, although the margin of defeat was much smaller than in past votes,” County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said in a statement Friday.
“Despite encouraging negotiations, this is the fourth time that a tentative agreement has been rejected by this bargaining unit, once under the prior administration and now three times with my administration,” Poloncarz added.
David A. Palmer, the county’s commissioner of labor relations, on Friday said the administration will file for an impasse with state Public Employees Relations Board, which then will assign a mediator between union officials and the county. That, however, would not preclude the two sides from renewing talks in the interim.
“This is not sustainable. The main issue here is the matter over health insurance,” Palmer said.
Under the latest rejected agreement, newly hired workers would have been required to pay 15 percent of their own health insurance. Palmer said the administration is committed to working with the leadership to figure out a proposal that will be amenable to the union membership.
“Until then, the employees can’t see any pay raises, because the county cannot change any benefits or wages, so everything remains status quo,” Palmer said.
In a statement posted on the county’s website, County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw said he stood with the 47 percent of the union membership who voted in favor of the contract proposal.
“These employees deserve a contract that respects their efforts on behalf of the people of Erie County, but is mindful of the taxpayers funding it,” Mychajliw said.
Last May, union members rejected a deal with the county that would have given workers a total of 11.5 percent in wage increases over a five-year period, but also would have required current county workers to pay 7.5 percent of their own health care premiums starting in 2017, while newly hired workers would have had to pay 15 percent of the cost.