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Massena, police officers union at impasse

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

The United Public Service Employees Union, which represents the 19 employees, filed a declaration of impasse June 12. The state Public Employment Relations Board now will 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, said Mr. Rogers, who would not comment on specifics.

“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.”

The police officers now do not pay anything toward their health care premiums; the village has sought to gain employee contributions.

The contract expired May 31. The declaration of impasse states that all items in the contract are unresolved after four negotiation meetings with the village in April, May and June. Mr. Rogers said he expects the state board to appoint a mediator this month.

Mayor James F. Hidy said the union’s declaration of impasse 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 unions — police, 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 R. 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 reviewing the village’s nonunion 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 last 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 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’s 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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