Saratoga County

CSEA plans rally to protest Saratoga Springs contract stalemate

CSEA plans to rally outside the New York Conference of Mayors annual meeting on Tuesday, protesti


CSEA plans to rally outside the New York Conference of Mayors annual meeting on Tuesday, protesting a stalemate in contract negotiations with the city’s Department of Public Works.

After months of unproductive talks, the city and CSEA held three mediation sessions, the last of which ended when CSEA representatives refused the city’s offer and walked out earlier this month.

In the city’s final offer to the union, workers were offered no pay increase this year, a 1.5 percent wage hike in 2010 and a 2.5 percent increase in 2011, Mayor Scott Johnson said Friday. In addition, the city would require employees who don’t currently pay anything toward their health insurance premiums to contribute $500 a year.

More than half of DPW employees get free health insurance through the city, Johnson said. Those who were hired a little later pay 10 percent of the premium costs, and those hired most recently pay 20 percent of their premiums.

Johnson said the union came back at the final mediation session with a counter-offer to the city’s plan: no pay increase this year; a 3 percent pay increase in January 2010 and then an additional 1.5 percent hike July 1; and in 2011 a 3 percent hike January 1 and another 1.5 percent July 1.

When those interest amounts are compounded, it amounts to about a 5 percent pay increase each year in the second and third years of the contract, Johnson said.

“I said, ‘Apparently, you’re not listening to me. You don’t understand what we’ve been saying for months,’ ” he said.

Johnson revealed the offers Friday, saying he is no longer bound by an agreement not to talk to the press about the offers since the two sides are no longer negotiating.

“Now the ground rules don’t apply,” he said.

CSEA officials said earlier this month they are preparing to start fact-finding, the final step left in the process.

Johnson said the union has not filed for fact-finding yet.

CSEA has protested the costly hiring of law firm Harris Beach to negotiate, saying the city has paid more than $100,000 for the attorneys.

Johnson said the real amount is more like $35,000 — the city also hired Harris Beach to get a settlement with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and CSEA’s figure likely includes that $60,000 in fees.

The rally calling attention to the union’s position will be held outside the City Center at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday. NYCOM meets inside the Saratoga Hilton next door.

Johnson said he’s not sure why CSEA is targeting the mayors’ conference.

“I think this type of demonstration really achieves the opposite effect of what they’re seeking,” Johnson said.

The union isn’t really trying to influence the city and village mayors who will be at the meeting, admitted Ed Molitor, CSEA spokesman.

“I think that the aim is to get as much attention as possible, as much coverage as possible,” Molitor said.

A giant inflatable rat and members of the city’s DPW and City Hall units will be on hand for the rally, which starts right after most laborers get off work. CSEA represents about 95 members in the DPW unit and more than 100 members in the City Hall unit.

The NYCOM meeting from Sunday through Wednesday at the Saratoga Hilton draws mayors from all over the state, and this year it kicks off the organization’s 100th anniversary.

The meeting helps local officials meet the challenges of running local government and allows them to network, according to NYCOM’s Web site.

CSEA’s rally will coincide with a session called, “Municipal Budgeting During Tough Fiscal Times,” according to the NYCOM agenda. That wasn’t intentional, Molitor said.

Johnson said the city needs a labor agreement it can afford.

“I’d rather not have an agreement at all than to have one that we can’t afford.”

The city is in tough financial straits that will lead either to a big tax increase or layoffs next year, or both, officials have said.

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