After four years of sometimes bitter negotiations, Niagara County Community College finally has a new contract with its Technical Support Personnel Association.
The board of trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the seven-year pact with the 26-member union that will provide the college's custodian, maintenance and grounds workers with an average raise of about 2.95 percent a year.
The union's previous contract expired Aug, 31, 2004, and the new contract covers the four past years as well as the next three -- through Aug. 31, 2011.
College President James P. Klyczek said the employees soon will receive checks for four years of retroactive raises, as called for under the new agreement.
Union and college negotiators have been arguing over various issues, especially health insurance benefits, since the old contract expired.
Union and college officials reached a tentative agreement Aug. 12, and union members voted, 20-4, Sept. 9 to ratify it, said Robert Brammer, the former union president who was heavily involved in the negotiations.
"It was a fair contract," Brammer said. "They didn't get everything they wanted, and we didn't get everything we wanted, but everything worked out at an advantage to both sides."
"We kept our [BlueCross BlueShield Traditional] health insurance plan, so I think we did very well," even though union members gave up some benefits under it, Brammer said. "For example, our co-pay for prescriptions will go up from $1 and $5 to $3 and $7 [depending on the prescription]."
"We've also given up the rider for cosmetic surgery," said Paul Rodriguez, the union's newly elected president. "That means no nose jobs or breast implants for the purpose of changing your looks. But if that kind of thing is health related, it's covered."
Klyczek said the college benefited as well because the union agreed to have the insurance administered under an "experienced-based [health] plan" managed by Accardo Insurance Co. in Niagara Falls.
That plan will lump the union with other unions -- such as those for the Niagara Falls School District and the Lockport Police and Fire departments -- under one BlueCross BlueShield Traditional policy. That will lower the college's costs by spreading coverage over a much larger number of people, reducing the per-person price tag, Klyczek said.
"It should save the college up to $300,000 to $350,000 a year" in insurance premiums, Klyczek said.
"It's a preferred rate with a group that handles more than one union," Rodriguez said of the health policy. As for the contract, "It's a pretty good deal. We didn't lose a lot."
Brammer said the contract took four years to negotiate because the college "wanted us to go to a [health maintenance organization]," which was not nearly as good as BlueCross BlueShield Traditional. "It was worth [the four-year wait]. We've got a Cadillac policy. Why would not want to turn it in for a Yugo? Why would we give it up? We got an agreement through a lot of give-and-take. We feel we have a fair and adequate contract."
"Considering the times and today's economy, it's a good contract. It's something we can live with," Rodriguez said.