Town of Patterson, Union Workers Look to Reach New Contract
Patterson town highway and sanitation workers, part of the CSEA union, picketed outside town hall Wednesday evening prior to a meeting in which the union and town board looked to hash out some of their difference in hopes of reaching a new contract.
The town and union have been in discussions since last August and town workers have been without a contract since January 1 of this year. Last week marked the first time the differences between the two sides were aired in a public setting, rather than at the negotiating table.
In an interview, Supervisor Rich Williams said the process in place now isn’t working and the two sides are at “loggerheads and there’s no real negotiations going on.” He said after union representatives addressed the board Wednesday, he hopes it gives both sides a chance to do things differently that could be beneficial.
Williams said the town has been generous in the past regarding union workers’ benefit packages and the town is looking for possible givebacks. The medical benefits given to union workers currently aren’t sustainable, Williams stressed, and there has to be a better way to provide health insurance.
Williams said under the current contract, if an employee retires after ten years of service at age 55, the town pays 90 percent of their health insurance for life. Additionally, if the worker dies, the town would continue to pay for the surviving spouse’s health insurance, he said.
At this point, the town and union have reached an impasse, which could only prolong reaching an agreement. This is the second time an impasse has been declared and New York State has brought in a fact finder to conduct a report about what a proper benefit package should be, Williams said.
When he came into office, Williams was told the report would be ready by last February and it likely won’t be settled until at least October.
“So if we can somehow get to where we need to be as far as the town looking to protect the taxpayers going forward while providing a good benefit package for our highway employees which are the best in the county, then I think we can resolve the issues,” Williams said. “But right now, I’m talking to the union through negotiators.”
Williams said the town is communicating through the town hired labor consultant and the union has a labor consultant going back to the union. There are too many heads in the room right now, Williams said.
Union representative for the highway and sanitation department, Phil Capalbo said he actually thought the town and union were close to a deal and after the meeting Wednesday, he was as optimistic as ever.
Capalbo said last contract discussion resulted in the union giving up overtime language that cost workers “quite a bit of money.” Also, workers now contribute 10 percent of the health insurance premium, instead of just 1 percent of their salary.
What made those give backs more bitter, was the fact a sanitation worker was laid off, Capalbo said, even though the old supervisor, Michael Griffin, said those changes would prevent that.
Through other departures, Capalbo noted the department is working with three less workers than three years ago because of two highway retirements never replaced.
Capalbo said the union was reluctant to agree to a deal with the town that would include the town not paying for a widowed spouse’s health insurance and other give backs for retiree health insurance.
The picket before the meeting was merely to raise awareness over the contract negotiations, Capalbo said and he stressed the union’s appreciation from town residents’ support, like past supervisor candidate Andrew Falk, who is a familiar face on union picket lines.
Falk, now running for state senate, said he was committed to supporting CSEA town employees and their families, particularly retirees.
“Standing by our retired town employees is part of a social contract and it is unconscionable that we would ever sell them out,” Falk said.
During the meeting, CSEA labor specialist Glenn Blackman, the chief negotiator for the workers, argued if Williams decided to impose a contract for three years, it wouldn’t be possible to change anything in the contract that either side wants. He indicated the union was shooting for a two-year or even one-year deal.
Blackman also argued forcing sanitation workers to start their workday later at 7 a.m. instead of 5:30 a.m. would lead to conflicts with bus schedules once school resumes-another factor the two sides disagree on. Williams responded that he didn’t want to pay more overtime to employees than the town had to.
Blackman said he hopes that in the month of August, Williams and a town board member can meet with Capalbo and other employees to settle a deal.
“We want to clean this up,” Blackman said. “Put this behind us.”