County tries to buy AFSCME labor-peace

The Erie County (NY) Legislature’s plan to give bonuses to blue-collar workers is “a payoff to political special interests,” County Executive Chris Collins charged Friday, and he voiced confidence the control board will derail a plan that would knock the budget further out of balance. “Common sense will tell you they’re going to reject it,” Collins told reporters after he spoke with control board Chairman Anthony J. Baynes.

But Baynes insisted it’s premature to take a stand on the plan to give one-time payments of $600 to about 1,200 county workers as a way of settling a labor impasse. “We need to see what the issue is. I can’t just slam-dunk something and throw it out without looking at it,” he said. But one thing is clear, Baynes added. County officials must identify funds to pay for the bonuses.

“The county executive should figure out with [legislators] who passed this where the funds are going to come from. They can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re going to give raises,’ and there isn’t any money on the table.”

Therein lies the problem, said Collins, who argued the county can’t afford the raises. He claimed the Legislature exceeded its authority Thursday when it approved the payments without having a funding source.

“The money can’t be printed in our print shop,” said Collins, talking to reporters following Friday’s control board meeting.

The payments to members of Local 1095, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, would cost more than $800,000.

Baynes said the oversight panel has not seen the Legislature’s plan and “can’t talk in hypotheticals.”

Could state efficiency grants pay for the raises? Both Baynes and control board member Stanley J. Keysa said they doubt it, because the grants are supposed to be for initiatives that produce recurring savings.

Some might argue that giving employees a one-time payment to settle an impasse might be the carrot needed to get the union to negotiate a contract that produces savings. But Baynes seemed dismissive of the argument.

“It’s up to the unions to sit down with [Collins]. He’s a fair-minded person. Sit down and try to work this out,” Baynes said.

“To pay someone $600 to come to the table to talk is ludicrous,” Baynes added.

A state law allows legislative bodies to settle labor impasses by acting on raises.

The Buffalo Common Council took several such actions in the 1980s and 1990s.

But Collins argued the Legislature is setting a “dangerous precedent” by awarding payments to workers.

“That would encourage unions to declare an impasse when they can’t get from me what they might otherwise want, and then go running across the street to the Legislature for a handout,” Collins said.


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