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Cattaraugus County legislators heading to a budget meeting this evening in the County Center will have to face rows of county workers in picket lines protesting pending layoffs.

Legislators are mulling 29 job cuts in the county's two nursing homes in Olean and Machias as they consider budget appropriations for next year and seek to keep a growing deficit from reaching $1 million.

Members of Civil Service Employees Association Local 805 are "opposed to subcontracting of patients therapy functions to a firm from Pennsylvania and the layoffs of dedicated county employees," according to a press statement.

To emphasize their position, the workers will launch 200 helium-filled balloons during their 6 p.m. protest.

The county entered into negotiations with a firm to provide the therapy services without advance notice to the union, said Thomas Finger, union labor relations specialist.

"They haven't researched other cost cutting measures that could have saved these dedicated employees from being let go," Finger said.

Sandy Costello, president of the union's general bargaining unit, said: "We're calling on the county to reverse this privatization and restore these dedicated workers to their jobs without the shadow of layoffs hanging over their heads."

Legislators recently cut two therapy aide positions. Legislator Sandra Wyllie, R-Delevan, chairwoman of the Senior Services Committee, said the workers could apply to the new firm for their old jobs and if they qualify could be hired at a higher pay rate.

Representatives from Complete Care Services of Pennsylvania, consultants hired by the county to trim expenses and improve nursing home operations, will hold public meetings at 2 p.m. this week to provide information on the homes.

Sessions will be held Thursday in Machias and Friday in Olean. They will be open to county workers and the public.

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