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Massena police officers, village at contract stalemate

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MASSENA - Contract negotiations have broken down between the village and the bargaining unit representing its its full-time police officers.

The United Public Service Employees Union, which represents the 19 employees, filed a declaration of impasse on June 12, which the village board received last week. The state’s Public Employee Relations Board will now appoint a third-party mediator, according to Jack F. Rogers, the officers’ labor relations representative.

“We weren’t getting anywhere with what we were doing and that’s why we got a mediator involved,” Mr. Rogers said. “In essence, we haven’t agreed on much at all.”

The points of disagreement include health benefits and scheduling, Mr. Rogers said. The declaration of impasse states all items in the contract are currently unresolved after four negotiation meetings with the village in April, May and June.

Mr. Rogers declined to comment on the contract’s specifics. He expected PERB to appoint a mediator by next month.

“There will be a time to speak more publicly on where we’re at,” he said. “Let’s see how we make out with a mediator and we’ll go from there.”

A manning clause in the police contract has been a source of contention in previous contract negotiations between the village board and the union representing the police officers.

The contract between the police union and the village of Massena currently contains a manning clause that mandates a minimum of three patrolmen and a sergeant working during the day shift and four patrolmen and a sergeant on the night shift. Each shift also has a dispatcher.

The village has also sought to gain contributions toward health insurance benefits from its employees in recent negotiations.

Mayor James F. Hidy said the union’s declaration was “probably not the ideal way you want to go.”

“Obviously, they felt it was an issue that was near and dear to their heart,” he said. “We’re at a stalemate.”

The village is simultaneously negotiating contracts with all three of its unionized employees - the police, career firefighters and Department of Public Works employees, as well as its management employees.

“Would you expect all three to go smoothly? Probably not,” Mr. Hidy said.

In March, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to hire David Birnbaum of Cranberry Lake at a rate of $90 per hour plus mileage reimbursement to serve as a professional contract negotiator. Mr. Birnbaum also is also reviewing the village’s non-union contracts. The village board did not retain an outside negotiator for past contracts, but used to employ an administrator who was involved in that process.

As of Monday, the village had paid $8,306.25 to Mr. Birnbaum, according to Treasurer Daniel E. Case. Mr. Rogers pointed out the total was several thousand dollars higher than the $1,800 Mr. Hidy had estimated two weeks earlier.

He criticized the money spent on professional negotiators.

“They’re willing to spend money on a on a lawyer or negotiator rather than put it into the contract for their membership,” he said. “It’s a lot more than what was needed. It is what it is. It’s not just Massena where this happens.”

Mr. Hidy said Mr. Rogers’ comments made no sense. The officers pay to have Mr. Rogers represent them, so the village having no representation would be like “bringing a spoon to a fork fight.”

“Jack seems like a pretty smart fellow,” Mr. Hidy said. “If he was sitting in our chair, he’d realize the same thing.”

“We have to look at the best interest of the entire village,” Mr. Hidy said. “We felt we did what was right.”

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