MAYVILLE - The union representing Chautauqua County Home workers is hoping to set the record straight regarding its stalled labor negotiations with the county. County Executive Greg Edwards is following suit.
David Fagerstrom, CSEA Unit 6300 president, recently sent all 25 county legislators a three-page letter to "clarify points" made by the union at the legislature's Sept. 26 meeting.
Fagerstrom and Penny Gleason, CSEA labor relations specialist, spoke to lawmakers involving the sale of the Dunkirk skilled nursing facility. The sale will be put to a vote during Thursday's special meeting of the legislature.
"We appreciate the gravity of the momentous decision you will face concerning the sale of the county nursing home," Fagerstrom said in his letter, dated Oct. 5 and obtained by the OBSERVER.
"We are also fully aware of the economic climate in this country and more importantly, this county," he continued, "and we want to outline for you the efforts that we, the CSEA negotiating team, made during contract negotiations to save Chautauqua County money."
The unit president said negotiations for a new labor contract began in earnest in August 2011, although no proposal "relative to the Chautauqua County nursing home" was made by the county.
"There was no indication from the county that the nursing home was in distress," Fagerstrom said, noting that by October 2011, the union and the county agreed to streamline the number of proposals on the table.
The streamlining was done to reach an agreement and allow a high-deductible health insurance plan as an option for Unit 6300 members by the end of November 2011 in time for the 2012 health plan year.
Fagerstrom said the union offered a two-year agreement with no pay increases, while step increases and longevity would be frozen for the duration of the new contract. Savings, Fagerstrom said in his letter to lawmakers, were estimated at approximately $1.7 million for the two years.
Furthermore, premiums through the high-deductible insurance plan were expected to be 43 percent less than the current plan offered by the union.
"We feel confident in saying that we believe the potential savings would have been significant," Fagerstrom said.
He added: "The county's response to CSEA was that they were not willing to do a two-year agreement but instead needed a four-year agreement."
The county executive said he sought a standard four-year deal to avoid constant contract talks. "If we would agreed to two years, I would already be starting negotiations," Edwards said.
On Jan. 19, Edwards reached out to then-union president Rose Conti about concessions for "work rules, pay and benefits" the union would be willing to concede. Edwards said he gave the union "plenty of time" to respond, which came as the legislature in early January approved the Chicago-firm Marcus and Millichap to market the County Home.
"What they are failing to acknowledge is that I sent CSEA a letter, asking them what concessions they would be willing to offer," he said. "Not only did they not respond ... but they never acknowledged receipt of the letter.
"I never heard from the union about the cuts they would be willing to make in order to see savings."
During negotiations, the county and the union were unable to agree to a new insurance plan in time for savings to be recognized. Shortly thereafter, the union declared an impasse - turning to a mediator to facilitate a new labor contract.
"Even when CSEA attempted to meet the county's need for a four-year contract, agreeing to the county's proposal to spread the savings from wage freezes, step increments and longevity over four years, we were unable to reach settlement," Fagerstrom said.
Talks between both sides resumed in March 2012, with the last of five mediating sessions concluding on Aug. 21.