Contract talks between the county and the Police Benevolent Association are accelerating.
County Attorney Edward P. Perlman said he and the union president, Capt. James R. Meierer, decided Wednesday to hold their face-to-face meeting Friday instead of next week.
The 130 sheriff's deputies have been working without a new contract for more than 20 months. They have picketed two Legislature meetings and Friday marched outside DeFlippo's Restaurant in Lockport, owned by Legislator Gerald R. DeFlippo, chairman of the Legislature's Human Resources Committee.
Perlman said: "I want to listen to their demands first-hand. They're frustrated."
In contrast to his pessimistic tone Tuesday, Meierer said Wednesday there's a chance the sides could reach an agreement at the Friday session.
"We're not really that far away, if we can get the exact figures," Meierer said.
Perlman said: "I don't know that we'll settle, but at least I'll know where they're coming from. . . . I think we can define the economic issues and maybe narrow them."
Perlman's entrance into the talks seemed to occur on the spur of the moment Tuesday night during the County Legislature meeting, when the attorney intercepted Meierer moments before he was to have addressed the Legislature during the public comment period, with some 40 deputies in the gallery backing them.
Perlman said he was worried that something might be said that would anger the legislators and administer a setback to the talks.
As the deputies encircled Perlman and Meierer, and reporters sprinted to the scene, the two agreed to set up a session that might take all day Friday.
It's Perlman's first participation in the talks, which so far have been headed on the county side by one of Perlman's former assistants, Richard J. Rotella.
Rotella resigned as an assistant county attorney to take a private-sector job that requires him to spend part of each month in Chicago. However, Perlman insisted that he stay as a consultant and finish the contract talks.
But Rotella will apparently not be present Friday, Perlman said. He will be joined on the county's side of the table by Human Resources Director Albert T. Joseph and Labor Relations Manager Robert M. Schuman.
Perlman said: "These guys know I represent the Lockport Police Department (union) and the Niagara Falls Firefighters (union) in contract talks. They know I understand the unions' point of view."
Meierer said his union's 10-man negotiating team will be present. Their attorney, W. James Schwan of Buffalo, may not be.
Meierer said: "Even if we can't get hold of him, we won't cancel this meeting. We just won't agree to anything until he looks it over."