The leader of the union representing 2,300 Onondaga County workers says they’re more unified than ever after rejecting their third tentative contract agreement in 18 months. The dispute now enters the final phase of the impasse process.
The vote late Tuesday was 1,057 to 747 to turn down the contract, which would have been retroactive to 2013. President of CSEA Local 834 Kathy Zabinski says the biggest issue continues to be the cost of health insurance.
"There was going to be substantial increases to our co-pays and the premium contributions that were going to offset any wage increase for the most part. That was the issue with the previous contract, and they did come back with the offer of more money which helped more people, but we still have a percentage of lower pay grades that were going be harmed by this agreement.”
But Zabinski says it goes beyond just health insurance and pay raises. It's also the workload.
"The county executive has constantly talked about how she's downsized government. We're bare bones in a lot of our departments now. The workloads have been doubled and tripled, and they're not being compensated for it."
Zabinski says another factor, to a lesser extent, was the pay raises county lawmakers gave themselves and the county executive right before the holidays. She says members said they were disappointed and angered over the fact that those increases are immediate, while workers have to wait the lifetime of a contract to see their raises. Zabinski says this week’s vote means members have been working under the terms of a previous contract that expired three years ago.
"This contract negotiation has been frustrating. It's been long and drawn out, which leads to a lot of issues as to why it's being dragged out for so long. That's why we declared impasse back in 2014. We had 14 meetings and we hadn't agreed to anything but the ground rules.”
Last September, workers rejected the recommendation of a state appointed factfinder. In August 2014, members overwhelmingly turned down a tentative agreement reached with the help of a state appointed mediator. Zabinski says the next step in the process is legislative imposition, where lawmakers will vote to impose a contract for the year 2013, which by law, can only address wages. After that, she says the union and county negotiators will be right back at the bargaining table to negotiate the year 2014 and beyond. Zabinski says this is the longest workers have ever been without a contract in Onondaga County.
CSEA Local 834 represents workers in 911 Emergency Services, Onondaga Community College, and the Departments of Social Services, Health, Transportation, Probation, Parks, Corrections, Water Environment Protection, and the Library.
County officials were not made available for comment.