By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
JOHNSTOWN -- The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Monday passed a resolution scheduling a public hearing on the state fact-finder's report regarding the ongoing negotiations between the county and its Civil Service Employee's Association Local 818 General Unit.
Approximately 250 union members have been working without a contract since the last one expired on Dec. 31, 2009, and despite repeated attempts by the county and the unit's negotiating teams to find some middle ground, negotiations have proven futile.
Upon a request filed by the CSEA, the NYS Public Employment Relations Board appointed Attorney Gordon Mayo to oversee the negotiations and issue a fact-finding report. Mayo met with both sides in July. That meeting was followed by an October hearing and closing briefs were presented to Mayo in November.
Last month, Mayo released his report outlining a proposed settlement, focusing primarily on compensation and health insurance, which Mayo described as "the most compelling issues facing the parties."
Union negotiators had originally lobbied for a four-year contract, with no pay increases in 2010 or 2011, a 2.25 percent increase in 2012, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012 for all employees on the payroll on that date and a 2.25 percent increase effective Jan. 1 of this year.
The county was offering a five-year contract, with no increases in 2010 through 2012 and a 1.5 percent increase in 2013 and 2014.
Mayo's report calls for a four-year contract, to be imposed retroactively, with no salary increases in 2010 or 2011, a 1 percent increase effective Jan. 1 of 2012 for all employees on the payroll on that date and another 1 percent increase effective July 1, 2012, also for all employees on the payroll on that date. It also calls for a 1 percent increase on January 1, 2013 and a 1.5 percent increase effective July 1, 2013, for all employees on payroll on those dates.
"With the county holding a very large fund balance, this schedule will not cause the county any fiscal difficulty, and will alleviate the pain of two years of zeroes for employees who do not earn large salaries and have had to deal with inflationary pressures without any relief," Mayo wrote.
The problem, says county officials, is that the notion of the county having a "large fund balance" is inaccurate.
In a memo dated Dec. 21, little more than a week after the release of Mayo's report, then-Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael F. Gendron issued a formal response to the report by making his recommendations to the board with respect to the proposed settlement.
In it Gendron corrected Mayo's assertion that the county had netted approximately $7 million from the sale of the county's residential healthcare facility, saying the actual profit was closer to $3.5 million.
"In addition, the sale revenue has no relationship to, nor did it increase, the unreserved Fund Balance of the county. The Fact-Finder's statement that the county is '... holding a very large fund balance ..." (on page 4) is inaccurate and misleading to an uninformed reader," Gendron wrote. "The facts are that declining revenues, combined with increasing state mandates and increasing costs for employee health insurance and pensions, have resulted in a Fund Balance that is well below levels recommended by the NYS Comptroller.
"Although the county is stabilizing," Gendron continued, "it is clear that the Fact-Finder does not have an understanding of Fund Balance and its relationship to the budget."
Despite the inaccuracies, Gendron did express some support for the report.
"In my opinion, it does offer some concepts that could form the basis for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement acceptable to both sides," Gendron wrote.
Gendron countered Mayo's proposal in regards to salary structure with one of his own, which offered a five year contract with no increases in 2010 and 2011, 1 percent increases on Jan. 1 and July 1 of 2012, another 1 percent increase on Jan. 1 of this year and a 1.5 percent increase on July 1 of this year. Gendron's proposal called for no increase in the fifth year of the contract.
Gendron's offer also calls for 2012's pay increases to be allowed only to employees on the county's payroll at the time the contract is ratified, as a posed to Mayo's recommendation that the increase be effective for all employees "on payroll on that date."
More than 200 employees of the former Fulton County Residential Healthcare Facility, which was sold into private ownership last year, were still on the county's payroll as of January 1, 2012. It is unclear whether they would be affected by Mayo's proposed 2012 pay increases.
Among his recommendations, Gendron also agreed with Mayo that the county should concede a $50.00 increase in boot allowances. Mayo, however, had proposed that that also be made retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012. Gendron said it should only take effect this year.
Other matters addressed by Mayo included a recommendation that the county be granted its request for an additional week of lag payroll beginning July 1 as well as a recommendation that future new hires who select the individual health insurance plan contribute 20 percent of the premium cost in the years following an initial 50 contribution during the first year of employment. The CSEA had asked for a four-year sliding scale of 50, 20, 15, then 10 percent contributions.
In addition to the proposed changes, Gendron said his support of any future collective bargaining agreement hinged on whether or not the union agreed to withdraw the improper practice charge filed against the county in September of 2011.
The charges stem from a recent letter sent by Fagan directly to union members, without the knowledge of union management, attempting to persuade them to consider the county's most recent contract proposal.
At the time, Local 818 President Ron Briggs said he believed Fagan's letter constituted an attempt to negotiate when he was well aware that procedure dictated such communications go through union management.
Briggs called Fagan's action "unprecedented" and "wrong."
On Monday, Personnel Committee Chairman and Bleecker Town Supervisor David Howard said despite the fact-finding report, the two sides remain at a deadlock.
"We didn't agree with a lot of the things that were on there," Howard said referring to the fund balance estimates and the county's profits from the infirmary sale. "The facts were wrong."
Howard said he was unsure where the negotiations will go from here.
"At this point, we're at an impasse," said Howard. "We're quite a ways apart.
Local 818 President Ron Briggs could not be reached for comment on Monday.