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Lewis legislators approve contract with 200 union workers

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators on Wednesday approved a labor settlement with about 200 union workers after well over two years of negotiations.

Lawmakers, following an executive session discussion, voted 7-1 to approve a four-year deal with the largest non-hospital bargaining unit of the Civil Service Employees Union Local 825. Legislator Charles R. Fanning, R-Copenhagen, was opposed, while Legislature Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, and Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, did not attend Wednesday’s special meeting.

The bargaining unit, consisting of unionized county employees not working at the Sheriff’s Department or Lewis County General Hospital, has been without a contract since Jan. 1, 2010.

“I’m glad it’s over with,” said Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson.

Mr. Stanford said he would have liked to see a little sweeter deal for the employees, but the majority of legislators did not feel that way.

“It was a fair compromise,” said County Attorney Richard J. Graham, who handled negotiations on the county’s behalf.

The agreement, ratified April 13 by a majority of bargaining unit members, features 1 percent raises for all employees in both 2012 and 2013 and a $500 lump-sum payment to effectively cover back pay in 2011. There would be no back pay for 2010.

Smaller step pay increases for new hires were also negotiated, Mr. Graham said.

Employees are to continue to pay 23 percent of their health insurance premiums through 2013, with the county covering the balance.

The county and CSEA went through four mediation sessions in spring 2011, from which the mediator developed a proposed settlement. However, legislators in October rejected the proposal, which would have included 2 percent raises in 2012 and 2013 and a $625 lump-sum payment to effectively cover back pay in 2010 and 2011.

County lawmakers last month reached a settlement with about 40 dispatchers and corrections officers, who had been without a contract since Jan. 1, 2011.

However, they must still reach a settlement with roughly 20 road patrolmen, whose previous contract also expired Jan. 1. 2011.

Those negotiations are at impasse, with one mediation session already in the books and binding arbitration a possibility, Mr. Graham said.

More than 500 union workers are also in negotiations with the county-owned hospital, as their contract expired at the end of last year.

Legislators on Wednesday also voted 8-0 to contract with Wladis Law Firm, East Syracuse, to help apply for grants to upgrade the county’s emergency radio system at an hourly rate of $195 for attorneys and $100 for paralegals.

Federal Engineering Inc., Fairfax, Va., in December completed a $53,000 study of the radio system that identified many deficiencies, including spotty coverage in many areas and little interoperability between emergency agencies. It recommended an upgrade project, estimated at between $6.4 million and $11.6 million, that could be done in phases.

State Homeland Security expects to award $36 million for such projects this year, up from $20 million last year, County Manager David H. Pendergast said. However, the next application deadline is rapidly approaching, county employees don’t have the technical expertise to pull together a strong application and a pair of counties assisted by Wladis last year received about 20 percent of the available funds, he said.

“This is a very complex project and a very complex grant,” Mr. Pendergast said.

The cost for the grant application assistance, roughly projected at $15,000 to $20,000, may ultimately be covered by grant funds if awarded, he said.

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