August 7, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Syracuse, NY – The longstanding struggle to secure a fair and equitable contract for 2,533 Onondaga County workers has grown even more contentious this week, as members of Civil Service Employees Association [CSEA] Local 834 overwhelmingly rejected a “miserly” contract offer that has sparked dueling charges of “dishonesty” and “disrespect.”
Working men and women doing vital county jobs in departments ranging from 911 Emergency Communications to the Onondaga County Library – rejected a deal that would have significantly increased employees medical and prescription copays, while also holding salaries relatively flat into 2015.
CSEA Local 834 President Kathy Zabinsky blasted Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s earlier decision to reduce the muncipal workforce while demanding greater productivity, and says her members basically felt that the contract offer was a slap in the face, partly because it failed to “recognize the important work they do for county residents.”
"Given the County's downsizing and continued increases in productivity from county workers, CSEA members felt disrespected by this contract offer,” Zabinsky said.
The unequivocal facial that workers dealt Mahoney in rejecting the contract offer, prompted one county executive appointee to accuse Zabinsky of trying to mischaracterize the deal, and also threaten the Local 834 president with improper practice charges.
According to syracuse.com, County Personnel Commissioner Peter Trojano said it was dishonest for the CSEA to characterize the contract offer as a country proposal – because the agreement was actually reached by the county and the union with help from a state-appointed mediator.
But Zabinsky flatly rebuffs that assessment, saying that the union leadership never voted on the problematic contract offer, and merely brought it back to the membership at the urging of the state-appointed mediator.
“We did tell the county from the beginning that a zero wage and a double hit on the health insurance was not acceptable,” Zabinsky told LaborPress. “We agreed to an update on the plan which included increased co-pays in our medical and scripts – and some of those co-pays went up 150 percent. Then we get to the table, and they put the percentage increases in our premiums as well."
Zabinsky said that the mediator was informed that the offer would be a hard sell because of those two items – but that the deal would, nonetheless, be brought back to the membership, so that they could make the ultimate decision.
"So, [the members] thought the double-hit was too big to take with the raises that were offered," Zabinksky said.
”Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate and Teamster Local 317 member challenging Andrew Cuomo for governor, said that Onondaga county’s contract offer was insulting because it would have actually knocked the municipal workforce backwards by coupling increased healthcare costs with meager one- and two-percent raises that fail to keep up with the rising cost of living.
"I support the CSEA workers' rejection of this miserly contract proposal,” Hawkins said. “The county budget should not be balanced on the backs of county workers.”
Hawkins, in contrast, supports the restoration of state revenue sharing and the adoption of a single-payer public health plan to relieve the fiscal squeeze on local governments in the state.
Onondaga County and CSEA Local 834 can now either return to the bargaining table, or go through a fact-finding process, in which a mediator would ultimately determine what a fair and equitable contract looks like. The mediator’s findings, however, would not be binding.
“I think when you talk to most public sector workers, and I’m sure the privates would say the same thing, due to the downsizing in government, the people who were not laid off, are now doing the jobs of two or three people,” Zabinsky said.