Editor’s Note: Cayuga County Employees Unit President Bob Janas, who helped lead the successful contract fight detailed in this story, was awarded our union’s Danny Donohue Leadership Award for Local Government for his role. The Work Force will feature a profile on Janas in an upcoming edition.
AUBURN — Cayuga County Employees Unit members recently mobilized and showed their solidarity to successfully secure a new contract that has the potential to reignite an energy within the workforce that’s been missing for years.
The unit’s new contract includes unprecedented wage increases, more health insurance plan options and binding arbitration.
“It’s the best contract we’ve gotten in a few negotiation cycles and certainly the best that I remember,” said Cayuga County Employees Unit President Bob Janas.
Janas and the unit’s negotiating team, which includes Lisa Sloan, Peter Thomas, Katya Cornelius, Rachel Reis, Elvira Carabajal, Greg Campbell, and Donn Brown, reached out to county employees early last year to find out how they felt about their jobs. The consensus from the workers was employees were feeling left behind and underappreciated.
The negotiating team set out to get a contract that would satisfy and retain current employees and attract new employees to fill open positions across every department.
Activism producing results
More members became active during negotiations than ever before, according to Janas. It started with the negotiating team.
“It was the biggest negotiating team we’ve had,” said Janas. “The contract allows us eight members and I don’t think we’ve ever brought eight. We did this time and that allowed us to have more representation from other departments and that was helpful.”
That activism spread to the workforce and members started regularly showing up to county legislature meetings.
“I kept reminding people that the legislators at the meetings are the ones making decisions about your job and you need to show them that you care,” said Sloan. “If you don’t care, why should they? People understood and showed up. There was even one meeting where we had over 50 people out of around 300 in our CSEA shirts.”
Meetings would have 20 or 30 people watching, something the legislators were certainly not used to seeing.
CSEA Labor Relations Specialist Jason David was thrilled to see that kind of organic activism from members.
“I think it really opened doors to some conversations,” said David. “Legislators would come over and have conversations with members. The action members took had a direct impact at the negotiating table.”
Janas showed a strong display of activism and leadership. Throughout the process, he was fighting stage IV cancer.
“He didn’t miss a single meeting,” said David. “He would be in chemo in the morning and at the negotiating table in the afternoon. I mean, who does that?”
While David and the negotiating team give credit to Janas, like a true team player, Janas gave all credit to members and the negotiating team.
Binding arbitration, health insurance, and Juneteenth
David noted that after getting binding arbitration into their contract, he’d be able to retire tomorrow and be happy.
Without binding arbitration, an arbitrator’s decision is strictly advisory. To management, it’s known as the holy grail and a ‘get out of jail free’ card. If you work somewhere without it, management still gets the final decision after the arbitration process.
“It was a pipe dream going into negotiations,” said Sloan. “No one thought it would ever happen, but we got it.”
Our union was also able to make positive changes to the health insurance plan. The unit had what people would consider a “premier” plan, but the issue was that most members were over-insured and paying for more than they needed. The new changes helped fix that problem, and it was also added that the plan can be optional, something the county didn’t want.
Despite the gains, the workers did not gain one important proposal. Juneteenth isn’t yet a holiday for Cayuga County employees.
Recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday was one of the proposals presented to the county. The state and surrounding counties all recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, but Cayuga County would not give it in the contract.
County management proposed giving employees Juneteenth off but take away their floating holiday, something the negotiating team knew wouldn’t be OK with members.
“As much as we think Juneteenth should be recognized, we’re not going to give up another day off so the county can do the right thing,” said Janas. “This is the final resting place of Harriet Tubman and they’re not willing to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.”
The county said recognizing the holiday was something they could do after the contract passed with a memorandum of agreement.
“It blows everyone’s mind and it’s not something we’ve given up on,” said Sloan. “It’s just something that will be a fight for another day.”
— Nicholas Newcomb