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Union Says Safety Of North Tonawanda Residents/Taxpayers & Business Owners Are Being Put At Risk By Mayor’s 2012 Budget Proposal That Eliminates Six Emergency-911 Police Dispatchers

CSEA Local 832/Unit 7692 Representatives Say Mayor Ortt Wants To Move Police Dispatch Services To The Niagara County Dispatch Center In Lockport, Which Union Officials Contend Would Negatively Impact Police Protection in North Tonawanda

Published Wednesday, November 9, 2011 3:30 pm
by Tom Campbell/Editor-Publisher

(NORTH TONAWANDA) – North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt, who’s been accused of “blatantly violating” New York State’s Taylor Law by offering Union-Represented City Workers $200 each to make a judge’s arbitration ruling on a Prescription Drug Plan go away, has proposed the elimination of six Emergency-911 Police Dispatchers from the City’s 2012 Budget - which representatives of Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) Local 832/Unit 7692 say will negatively impact Residents/Taxpayers and Business Owners.

In order to focus public attention on the potential and negative ramifications, the Union is scheduled to conduct an informational demonstration at 5 p.m. on Thursday, November 10th outside City Hall before the Common Council holds a public hearing on the 2012 Budget. 

CSEA Unit 7692 President Bill Davignon, who tells WNYLaborToday.com this is the first time that his Union has conducted such demonstration in the 24 years that he’s been a Union Member, says the positions of the six Union-Represented E-911 Dispatchers will be eliminated if Ortt’s budget is approved.  It’s also anticipated that CSEA and North Tonawanda Police Benevolent Association Members will attend the public hearing.

“Mayor Ortt has proposed eliminating local Police Dispatching Services and wants to move those services to the Niagara County Dispatch Center in Lockport.  We believe the negative impact of this plan on residents and business owners’ needs to be addressed,” states an informational Union flier that is being distributed throughout North Tonawanda. 

Meanwhile, an informal public information meeting has been scheduled for today (Wednesday, November 9th) at the Gratwick Hose Fire Hall on Ward Road where representatives of the North Tonawanda Police Union and CSEA Local 832/Unit 7692 will discuss a variety of topics, including: Increased response times and manpower shortages; Lessening of Police Services on non-criminal quality of life calls; Potential decrease in officer and the public safety and the City’s resulting liability; Actual cost of the proposal versus Mayor Ortt’s ’s ‘claimed’ savings; Inability of Niagara County to handle additional call volume with proposed personnel; and several other issues that may impact not only residents/taxpayers, but also business owners.

“We’re committed to serving our residents and your safety is our top priority,” the flier states.  “Please contact your City Officials and ask them to delay passing this proposal until the residents have heard all of the possible consequences of this budget. “

In late October, WNYLaborToday.com reported CSEA Unit 7692 President Davignon had attended a meeting of the North Tonawanda Common Council to voice his Union’s concerns over the targeted layoff of six Police Department Dispatchers in the City’s proposed 2012 Budget.  At the meeting, Davignon read the following statement:

This is to express the concern of the CSEA Unit 7692 Employees’ Union regarding the lay-off of six Police Department Dispatchers in your proposed 2012 City Budget.  This action would be a direct violation of Section 5.45 of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) - Adjustments in Force which states: “The employer must not contract out work normally performed by employees in the negotiating unit if to do so would result in the elimination of any position in the negotiating unit.”

The Police Dispatchers you are proposing to lay-off provide a very essential service that is needed 24hrs/day, 7days/week and 365 days/year.  The North Tonawanda E-911 Dispatchers are the “life-line” that our citizens need in time of emergencies and this action should not be taken in a rash and irresponsible manner.  Nobody knows the City of North Tonawanda better than our

Dispatchers and that is what makes them the best at what they do.  In fact, Police Chief Szukala supports keeping the Dispatchers here in North Tonawanda.  Who knows better how to provide public safety to our citizens than the Police Chief?  This is not a decision that should be made by politicians.  This decision should be made by a professional like Chief Szukala.

Recently, you have been willing to take the time to have professional studies done on Gratwick Riverside Park, the City owned Marina and the combining of the City of Lockport Water Department with the City of North Tonawanda Water Department - just to name a few.  But, you have decided NOT to do a professional study regarding the contracting out of emergency dispatching which is the most vital service that we offer our citizens!  This is not a decision that should be rushed into or taken lightly.  In fact, to my best recollection, after a professional study paid for by Niagara County, it took two years to move the North Tonawanda Fire Department dispatching out to the county.

In the mayor’s proposed 2012 budget message, he states that over the past two years the City has saved an estimated $1,768,000 by cutting 34 full-time positions from the City Workforce.  But, in his 2011 State of the City speech, the mayor says that the average City Worker earned $91,975 including salary and benefits.  If the mayor uses that figure, the City’s actual savings from cutting 34 positions would be an estimated $3,127,150.  It seems to me that the mayor has ‘underestimated’ the cost savings of cutting 34 positions.  This estimated $3 million dollars in savings will off-set the estimated $2 million dollar budget deficit for 2012.

North Tonawanda CSEA Unit 7692’s Union Members would like to see all of the stakeholders in this matter brought together to work on a solution before a decision of this magnitude is finalized.  Minimally, a Citizen’s Advisory Committee should be set up including three North Tonawanda residents who are familiar with the operations of E-911 systems, North Tonawanda Chief Szukala, the Niagara County Sheriff, a North Tonawanda Dispatcher and a Niagara County Dispatcher.  This process will take the politics out of it and would make any final recommendation one that is based on facts which will put the safety and interests of North Tonawanda residents first.

The mayor estimates that contracting out E-911 Dispatching to Niagara County will save $450,000, which includes six Dispatchers and the maintenance of the E-911 System.  How much is one life worth to you $50,000, $500,000 or $1 million dollars?   To me personally, and I’m sure to everyone in this room, a life is PRICELESS!  The mayor and City Council Members should take their time and study this very carefully before making a decision.  This is literally a “life or death” decision that will affect every citizen of this great City.  The employees of this City are also your neighbors and fellow taxpayers.  We have a vested interest in working to maintain the community’s safety and providing services in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible.  We respectfully request that you consider postponing this action until a Citizen’s Advisory Committee can study it in greater detail.

CSEA Local 832/Unit 7692 Representatives are asking concerned North Tonawanda City Residents/Taxpayers and Business Owners to make their complaints about the Police Dispatch position eliminations directly to North Tonawanda’s Elected Officials, including: Mayor Ortt    at 695-8540 or via e-mail at robertort@northtonawanda.org; Alderman-at- Large Catherine Schwandt at 694-8465; Alderman-at-Large Nancy Donovan at 694-9907; 1st Ward Alderman Dennis Pasiak at 694-9720 or via e-mail at dennispasiak@roadrunner.com; 2nd Ward Alderman Richard Andres at 629-3993 or via e-mail: andresforalderman@gmail.com; and 3rd Ward Alderman Erik Zadzilka at 695-9599 or via e-mail at emz869@aol.com.

 

WNYLaborToday.com Editor’s Note: On October 25th, Your Regional, On-Line Labor Newspaper published the following Labor News Report:

CSEA Charges North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt Violated The Taylor Law By Sidestepping The Union And Offering Represented City Workers $200 Each To Make Judge’s Arbitration Ruling On Prescription Drug Co-Pay Plan Go Away

(NORTH TONAWANDA) – The Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) is filing charges with the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) against North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt, whom the Union says “blatantly violated” the New York State Taylor Law by offering Union-Represented City Workers $200 each to make a judge’s arbitration ruling on a Prescription Drug Plan go away.

“CSEA is the exclusive bargaining agent for City Workers and it’s a blatant violation and circumvention of the Taylor Law,” CSEA Labor Relations Specialist Robert Mootry tells WNYLaborToday.com.  “The City had lost in arbitration and we’re stunned because it was so blatant.  There have been sporadic cases (of the Taylor Law being violated across New York State), but you would think the City Attorney would know the law.  I’m hoping (Ortt) just didn’t know any better.”

The incident involves CSEA Unit 7692, which represents 87 City Workers employed in a number of departments, including Clerical Workers in City Hall and in the City Clerk’s Office, Accounting, in the Fire and Police Departments, Parks and Recreation, in the City’s Water Department, including Filtration, Water Distribution and Waste Water.

The Union had previously won its Arbitration Case against the City and ensuing lawsuit that charged North Tonawanda with unilaterally changing the Union’s Prescription Drug Co-Pay Plan without Union consent. 

However, a tentative four-year contract agreement that was first voted down by the CSEA Membership in early September, and then for a second time in mid October after it was tweaked, would have cleared up the matter.  The agreement had included a Three-Tier Drug Co-Pay of $0, $20 and $40, and CSEA Unit 7692 President William Davignon told WNYLaborToday.com if the contract had been ratified, the City would not have had to comply with terms reached as a result of the previously-filed CSEA Lawsuit. 

After the initial vote, Davignon told WNYLaborToday.com he initially hoped the tentative agreement would be ratified, but “when you have two zeros (in yearly wage increases) and (the Members) have to pay the same for gas and milk, as well as pay more for their prescriptions, then it’s difficult to accept.”

After the tentative agreement was voted down for a second time by Unionized City Employees, Davignon told WNYLaborToday.com that Mayor Ortt sent him an e-mail stating that the mayor “intended on filing for impasse because any further negotiations would be worthless at this point."

CSEA Labor Relations Specialist Mootry responded to Ortt's e-mail, saying that since the mayor intended to stop negotiations on a new contract and was choosing to file for impasse, the CSEA - in turn - was now demanding Mayor Ortt comply with the court ruling to re-instate the Union-Represented City Workers’ original Health Insurance Plan that he unilaterally (and illegally, CSEA adds) changed on October 1st, 2010.

The mayor responded by sending out a letter to every CSEA-Represented City Worker with the $200 offer, which in effect bypassed CSEA Unit 7692’s Executive Board. 

In his letter, Ortt had asked that each City Worker accept a $200 settlement to – in effect – “make the ruling go away,” Mootry and Davignon told WNYLaborToday.com, which they both added is “a clear violation of the New York State Taylor Law” and is considered an Improper Practice.

“It’s kind of strange,” Mootry said of Ortt’s $200 offer to Union Members.  “(The Union) wanted to keep this separate from the contract negotiations.  We were trying to negotiate a settlement on this in the contract, but the mayor’s two-sentence response to me said he felt it was a ‘complete waste of time’ to continue the contract negotiations.”

In mid-October, CSEA Unit 7692 Members voted down for a second time the new, tentative four-year contract by a vote of 52-to-25.  On September 15th, Unit Members had initially turned down the agreement by a vote of 48-to-17.  The CSEA Union Local has been without a contract since December 31st, 2010.  It was only the second time in his 24-year career that a contract wasn’t ratified, Davignon said.  The new deal with the City would have included wage increases in years three and four of the contract and made improvements to the 87-Member Workforce’s Life Insurance Coverage and Optical Fund

In an e-mail sent to WNYLaborToday.com, Union President Davignon termed the CSEA Member turnout for the second vote as “exceptional.”

“With another overwhelming ‘NO’ vote, (Unit 7692 Members) have sent a loud and clear message that (they) were not happy with either of the City's contract offers,” Davignon said.  “I’m assuming (Mayor Ortt) will file for ‘impasse’ at this point because that is what (Ortt) said (he) would do at our last meeting.  This will be a long process and the (Union’s) Officers and Negotiating Committee appreciate your patience and understanding.”

Davignon, meanwhile, said he was proud of his Union’s Solidarity and active participation in the two votes, as well – as what he termed: “The most unified I have seen our Union in my twenty-four years.” 

The tentative agreement had called for: Zero wage increases in Year One and Year Two of the contract: Two raises in the second year – a 1.25% increase on January 1st and another 1.25% increase on July 1st; and 2% in the fourth year; A $5,000 increase in Members’ Life Insurance Policy; and A $5,000 increase in the Self-Insured Optical Fund.  In addition, CSEA Unit 7692 Members would receive the following per step increases in Longevity Pay: $600 at seven years; $750 at 10 years; $900 at 15 years; $1,050 at 20 years; and $1,200 at 25 years, Davignon said.  The Union also agreed to a Three-Tier Drug Co-Pay of $0, $20 and $40. 

“In these difficult times, both sides did not get what they wanted.  Our Membership’s number one request was keeping our original Health Care Plan,” Davignon had said.

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