Labor negotiations between city and CSEA scheduled to resume

Patricia Cooper, public safety secretary at the Gloversville Police Department and president of the city CSEA unit, addresses the Common Council on Tuesday as the city and CSEA prepare to resume contract negotiations next month to replace the agreement that expired at the end of 2016. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — Labor negotiations between the city and the local Civil Service Employees Association unit are set to resume next month seeking a new union contract to replace the agreement that expired at the end of 2016.

Representatives and city employees with the local CSEA addressed the Common Council during Tuesday’s meeting expressing their hopes surrounding the resumption of negotiations and concerns over what led talks between the city and CSEA to breakdown in February without resumption up to now.

“Our unit is comprised of employees in each and every department of the city,” said Department of Public Work employee Dan Bowen. “We would like a contract and liveable wages. We haven’t had a raise since 2016, our expenses have increased as have yours, our health insurance contribution has increased in keeping with this trend, but our wages have not.”

Bowen noted that DPW employees are behind the scenes helping to keep the city running by maintaining streets, sewers and municipal buildings, repairing equipment and vehicles for all city departments including police and fire, setting up and breaking down facilities used for special events and more.

“We have been called upon to do more and more with less and less. We have done this for the past three years, the city is growing and expanding. Your plan Mr. Mayor is to entice more people to move to Gloversville to hopefully restore the city,” Bowen said. “This is all very commendable, but meanwhile the city employees, the ones helping to make your dream a reality, aren’t making enough money to live on which means that the employees aren’t going to be part of this dream. We ask you to please take all of this into consideration and meet with us to negotiate a fair contract.”

Patricia Cooper, the city’s public safety secretary and president of the CSEA unit, aired concerns over messages she said City Labor Attorney Bryan Goldberger delivered to CSEA before and after talks broke down in February.

“Mr. Goldberger made it abundantly clear that he was communicating the sentiment of the mayor and the council when he told me that you are agitated that CSEA walked away from negotiations seven months ago,” Cooper said.

According to Cooper, Goldberger informed the CSEA of the city’s displeasure in a number of areas related to the contract negotiations including the speed with which the DPW completes work and the union blocking the city from increasing the salary for the city electrician in order to attract qualified applicants to replace current City Electrician Jim Walsh who has agreed to delay his planned retirement for at least the past year until his replacement can be found.

“There are long outstanding labor management issues within the DPW that have yet to be resolved, but we, CSEA, refuse to take responsibility,” Cooper said. “The work force has been holding it together, there has never been a time when the garbage wasn’t collected or the streets didn’t get plowed.”

“There is not one collective bargaining agreement that exists within the CSEA organization that includes a position whose salary is not clearly defined. That’s an essential element for every labor agreement,” she added. “We, CSEA, are not the enemy, if this is truly how you perceive us then we are very, very sorry that you have been led to this perception. We want to be part of the solution. I think that respect is a mutual thing, respect is something that is earned. This bargaining unit isn’t asking for anything more than you have given to other bargaining units.”

Cooper was followed by CSEA Labor Relations Specialist Ed Herbert who said that over the course of negotiations between the collective bargaining unit and the city since the last contract expired on Dec. 31, 2016 agreements on some proposals had been reached before the negotiations stalled.

“We are stuck in some areas and yes, we did want to move away from the table, because we felt that the efforts being made by the city was not in good faith,” Herbert said. “With that being said we still want to move forward and conduct negotiations. We realize that there are agreements and proposals on the table that we can get to ‘yes.’”

Herbert went on to urge both sides of the table to reapproach the negotiations with mutual respect and an attitude towards building relationships.

Mayor Vincent DeSantis responded to the comments optimistically, saying, “I really hope that we can come to ‘yes,’ and I think I speak for all members of the council in wanting our employees to be satisfied in that contract and wanting a good working relationship with all of the members of CSEA.”

He went on to say that the city must be mindful in its approach to negotiating due to the impact of any agreed upon contract on the 2020 budget that is currently being drafted and on the city’s future finances, pointing out that of the city’s $18.91 million 2019 budget roughly $4 million was comprised of health insurance and benefit costs for current employees and retirees.

“We really have to walk a fine line, we have a responsibility to our workers, you’re absolutely right, and we also have a responsibility to the taxpayers of the city,” DeSantis said. “I’m hoping that we come to an agreement fairly soon. Thank you very much for speaking I appreciate your thoughts.”

When asked following Tuesday’s meeting about Cooper’s description of the tone and sentiment apparently expressed by Goldberger in negotiations with CSEA, DeSantis said that he was not present for the meetings and Goldberger was not present Tuesday to comment before noting that contract negotiations are often “heated.”

“I don’t have any reason to doubt that there were certain conversations that were had in these negotiations that were quite heated and a lot of times negotiations between the representatives of the two parties in these labor negotiations sometimes devolve into shouting matches,” DeSantis said. “But this is not the atmosphere that we would like to enter negotiations with. We want the mutual respect that they require.”

DeSantis went on to address concerns that the city may be demonstrating disapproval for the DPW’s efforts through the Common Council’s recent approval of a daily reporting procedure for the DPW and awarding of contracts to outside firms to perform work typically done by the DPW, including a contract with Dan’s Excavation to replace 90 catch basins across the city at a cost of $4,875 per catch basin.

“What I would like to do from my point of view is to improve services. That’s my goal, I’m not saying that the DPW is not doing everything it can. I don’t put any blame on the workers of DPW, I think that they’re doing a great job. The thing is that the job is bigger than the number of people that we have and there’s no way that we can afford to expand the number of workers,” DeSantis said. “We just want to make it so that they’re not going from one emergency to the other.”

“Morale suffers when you have a job that’s impossible to do well and it’s my goal to improve morale,” he continued. “You improve morale by coming to an agreement with the union that we can all live with and by making their jobs more satisfying to them, where they could have some gratification that what they’re doing is making a big difference and not climbing a mountain that you never get to the top of.”

By Josh Bovee

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