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UNION WANTS NO-LAYOFF CLAUSE IN EXCHANGE FOR HEALTH GIVEBACK

The president of Niagara County's blue-collar union said last week that he is demanding a no-layoff clause in his union's next contract in exchange for abolition of taxpayer-funded cosmetic surgery.

Meanwhile, legislators will compete Tuesday in efforts to crack down on the benefit, which is available to members of three unions who choose the county's self-funded health coverage.

County Legislature Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, is offering a resolution to reduce the money for the unions' next pay raise by taking the cost of future cosmetic surgery from a fund set aside for the raises. He also wants to bar employees from taking paid sick days for such surgery.

The Republican-led majority caucus has announced a news conference for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, 30 minutes before the Legislature convenes, to support Legislator Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, who will give a speech about using the money now spent on cosmetic surgery for other purposes.

Last year, Updegrove offered a resolution that would have guaranteed funding for five not-for-profit agencies through 2010 if the unions would surrender the cosmetic surgery benefit. That went nowhere. No information was available Friday on his new proposals.

The two larger unions, the Civil Service Employees Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, still have the option, even though their last contracts ran out at the end of 2002.

That is because the county and the unions have not come to terms on new contracts, so the old ones remain in force. The county spent $932,000 on elective cosmetic surgery last year.

Edward McDonald, president of Local 182, AFSCME, said his members were concerned about the mass layoffs in Erie County, so his union is demanding layoff protection in exchange for an end to cosmetic surgery.

"That cosmetic surgery thing can go away. They have a problem with that job-security thing. Job security costs nothing," he said.

Virtuoso said the cost of every new breast implant, tummy tuck and nose job should be taken from the $2.2 million placed in this year's county budget for anticipated union raises. At present, the cost is taken from the affected department's medical benefits budget. "Hopefully, the resolution will be a deterrent to them from using elective cosmetic surgery," Virtuoso said.

"I'm not worried. It's in our contract. They have to pay it out of insurance," McDonald said.

County Manager Gregory D. Lewis said that the Legislature is free to "convey messages" but that the resolution will not affect the county's bottom line or his talks with the unions. "Once a deal is approved, we would have to search our county budget for resources to pay for that settlement," Lewis said, adding that if the raise pool is depleted, the money will have to come from elsewhere.

Virtuoso said he wants to bar sick days from being used by workers for cosmetic surgery. "That's wrong. Sick days are for when you're sick. These are medical procedures they're imposing on themselves," he said.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, said the Virtuoso proposals will be sent to committee. "I know what he's trying to accomplish by it, but I'm not sure that's a fair labor practice," he said.

"I don't know if they violate the contract. I think they violate the spirit of collective bargaining," CSEA negotiator Candy Saxon said. "Any change in wages or terms is negotiable."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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