Lockport– Over the last several months, there have been numerous media reports regarding the relationship between CSEA represented employees from the City of Lockport and their employer. The Lockport US&J Newspaper and The Buffalo News have been reporting on developing stories that overtly define and illustrate municipal dysfunction, incivility and anti-union animus at the highest level.

On March 28, CSEA provided the media with an official statement regarding a timeline of events and a clarification of talking points that were recently published by several Western New York news outlets. Hopefully, the members official statement that follows will give a much-needed perspective on some critical issues from the employee’s point of view.

Please consider the following collective bargaining issues:

CSEA Local 832 Unit 7651 City of Lockport employees have been without a contract since 2014. The CSEA negotiations team have attempted to bargain in good faith with City of Lockport and their lawyers for the past few years with limited success. However, despite the employers claim that CSEA employees are dragging out the process, it is the employer who has refused or ignored requests for document information, meeting dates and to review detailed proposals of a new collective bargaining agreement. City officials will not even return phone calls.

In 2016, CSEA was motivated by the city’s inaction to file for mediation with the NYS Public Employees Relations Board to compel the employer to negotiate in good faith. However, the attempt to negotiate new proposals of a tentative agreement fell on deaf ears and CSEA was left with no choice other than to recommend a Fact Finders Report and let an administrative law judge intervene.

As CSEA has publicly stated previously, we reject major recommendations offered in the Fact Finder’s Report issued February 19. By doing so, city officials have no option other than return to the negotiating table. CSEA is willing to compromise with the City of Lockport officials to settle a contract if it is fair and consistent with the other city collective bargaining unit contracts. The fact is, their proposals are not in line with other contracts negotiated by other city unions.

While CSEA disagrees with most recommendations of the Fact Finders report, they were significant enough for the members to formally reject the report “in its entirety.”

Additionally, the narrative offered up by city officials reported in the March 21 edition of the Lockport US&J suggested that their “frustrations” over the lack of progress was somehow the sole responsibility of the employees is just plain ludicrous— this notion is simply not true. If the employer truly wanted to bargain in good faith and come up with proposals that were fair to taxpayers and employees alike, we could have reached a deal a long time ago.

As many taxpayers and city employees are aware, health care coverage is a nuanced and complex portion of negotiating benefits in any collective bargaining agreement. The employer suggested to the media that the CSEA Unit members do not contribute to their health care cost. Again, this is simply not true. Most current CSEA represented employees pay or have paid substantial costs for their health care benefits at one time or another—unlike other city employees in other bargaining units. CSEA’s prior contracts dated before 2008 had employees paying up to 50 percent of their healthcare costs decreasing over a five-year period.

To date, the employer has signed contracts with three other bargaining units whose members hired prior to a certain date are not obligated to pay anything into their health care costs whatsoever. CSEA is only looking for the same parity, fairness and respect as other workers who are employed by the City of Lockport.

To this date, CSEA has several grievances and improper practices charges filed most of which have gone unanswered or could have been resolved if an open line of communication was available to employees in the CSEA bargaining unit.

City officials are also unilaterally implementing changes to the terms and conditions of employment that were not approved by the membership in previous contract negotiation talks.

It would be an understatement to say the lack of civility, no direct dealing, no open lines of communication and the absence of any atmosphere of collaboration are adversely affecting city operations. For city officials not to accept some responsibility for what has transpired is not only a mischaracterization of actual events, it is disheartening, puerile and toxic.

As previously stated many times before, CSEA is more than willing to negotiate in good faith and bring an amicable solution to stalled contract talks. CSEA members want nothing more than to get back to focusing on the business at hand—delivering vital public services to the taxpayers of Lockport.

Please consider the case of a fired CSEA Unit Officer:

Meanwhile, last week the City of Lockport moved to sue one of its employee unions spending unnecessary tax dollars filing court papers in a fight over an attempt by the union to exercise due process rights for one of its members. Most municipalities can negotiate common sense remedies to personnel issues in a matter of minutes, but unfortunately that is not the case for City of Lockport officials.

The city filed the lawsuit in Niagara County Supreme Court to bar CSEA from taking legal action to have a CSEA represented employee reinstated.

The disagreements over former deputy city clerk Shirley Browning employment status, whose job with the city ended Jan. 25 after a residency requirement issue, will have to be decided by the court of law and not hot-tempered bureaucrats who do not recognize the value of workplace governing documents.

According to Labor Relations Specialist Dom Luna, CSEA has filed three grievances over the Browning matter. CSEA has also publicly stated Browning’s dismissal was targeted and unfair. The city made no effort to seek a residency exemption for her from the New York State Legislature. At the time of her firing, Browning was president of CSEA Unit 7651. Luna also states in recent years, conversely there have been other instances where city employees have been subjectively given residency requirement waivers with no fanfare whatsoever.

In the future, as proper protocols dictate, CSEA cannot and will not further publicly discuss Shirley Browning’s personnel matters when outcomes are decided by an administrative law judge or in a court of law. CSEA’s legal team is monitoring the Browning case daily.

In conclusion, the residents and taxpayers of Lockport deserve better. It’s time city officials accept some responsibility for their past behaviors and decision-making. Despite the current challenges, the members of CSEA will dutifully continue to provide the best public services possible and will always approach our jobs with a spirit of compromise, civility and cooperation.

-Ove Overmyer


About Author

Ove Overmyer

Ove Overmyer is an award winning photojournalist and writer who has promoted the virtue of working people and the value of public service throughout his career. His work has been published by many well-respected international media outlets, including PBS Moyers & Co., Steward Update UCS Worker Institute Cornell ILR, CBS News, The Weather Channel, SCI-FY Channel, Associated Press and LOGO-TV. Before joining the CSEA Communications Department staff in 2015, Overmyer was a CSEA member employed by the City of Rochester and an officer of the union for more than 18 years. He covers a 14 county area of Western New York and lives in Rochester, NY.

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