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County, unions ready for fight

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — December 31, 2010 — With a likely fight on its hands, the Sullivan County Legislature on Wednesday approved what Chairman Jonathan Rouis called a “more articulate” resolution regarding the proposed freezing of county employees’ wage and longevity bonus increases.
“It just kind of enhances the one we did [earlier] in December,” explained Rouis after the vote.
Though rather complicated in its wording, the new resolution – approved by all legislators save for the absent Frank Armstrong and Kathy LaBuda – explicitly allows both the unions and individual, non-unionized employees to voluntarily accept the freeze.
Yet the unions already have that ability – and plan not to give up the four percent raise they were contractually guaranteed two years ago.
“Our take is our members are not willing to give up anything at this point,” noted Teamsters 445 Business Agent Sandy Shaddock, who represents more than half the county’s workforce.
She is concerned that the resolution is a “divide-and-conquer” attempt by the Legislature, as it allows legislators to reverse the freeze for specific unions and individuals “if it finds that the fiscal crisis has been sufficiently alleviated or for any other appropriate reason.”
The resolution also permits the Legislature to agree to “an acceptable and appropriate contribution toward alleviating” that crisis, if offered by a union or individual.
“I have heard that the larger issue for many employees is the freeze of the longevity bonuses,” explained County Manager David Fanslau after the meeting. “That freeze could be exchanged for all employees contributing 15 percent toward health insurance premiums, for example, which would avoid a $1.4 million county expense in 2011.
“There are also other scenarios,” he added, “such as an unpaid holiday, with each paid holiday costing the county $200,000.
“That’s not give-and-take,” Shaddock observed. “That’s take-and-take.”
She believes county leaders are worried that the rank-and-file workforce are fed up.
“The unions are joining forces,” she pointed out, noting that a press conference is scheduled for Monday.
It’s widely expected they’ll announce an already-promised battle to force the county to follow through on the raises.
But Rouis and others have said the raises could necessitate the layoffs of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of county workers – which so far has been avoided (as has a tax increase) in the adopted 2011 budget.
“If they [unions] prevail,” Rouis wondered, “what have they prevailed upon?”
“We think there’s wiggle room on the county side,” Shaddock countered, adding that the county can only cut so much before it’s derelict in providing required services to residents.

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