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Niagara County's largest union to vote on tentative contract

Niagara County's largest union will hold a ratification vote Wednesday on a tentative contract that would end four years of labor strife.

The county's unit of the Civil Service Employees Association will conduct voting during the business day at most of the county's buildings, union President Thomas J. Lafornia said.

Neither Lafornia nor County Manager Gregory D. Lewis would discuss the terms of the agreement. "A lot of our members haven't been informed yet, and I don't want them to read it in the paper," Lafornia said.

He said the deal was sealed Dec. 14 at the sides' fourth meeting with Charles Leonard, a mediator for the state Public Employment Relations Board.

Lunchtime information sessions on the deal for members of CSEA Local 832, Unit 7650, will continue through Tuesday.

The union represents about 900 people -- about half of the county's work force. The members have been working under terms of a contract that expired at the end of 2002.

In January 2004, CSEA members rejected a county offer over doubts about revisions in the health insurance plan.

Edward McDonald, president of the county's second-largest union, Local 182 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said he wants to see what the CSEA vote is before his union makes its deal.

AFSCME also has been working under terms of a pact that ran out four years ago.

"I'm guessing they offered us pretty much what they offered CSEA," McDonald said. "I made a counteroffer. CSEA went in after me and got a tentative agreement."

McDonald said the county offered AFSCME lump-sum payments to make up for the lack of raises from 2003-05. "They haven't brought up 2006 yet for retro pay," he said.

The union objects to lump sums because they can't be built upon for future raises.

For raises in future years, the county offered 2 percent a year; AFSCME countered with 3 percent. McDonald said he wanted the contract to run through 2009, but the county wants it to end in 2008.

One of the county's main goals was to restructure its health insurance program by having all workers under the same insurance provider.

McDonald said he agreed to a program administered by Nova Healthcare, the same company that now operates the county's self-insured package, which mimics traditional BlueCross BlueShield coverage.

However, McDonald said the new Nova plan would use Independent Health's network of doctors and its prescription drug list, although not necessarily its co-payment schedule.

The new Nova plan would delete coverage for elective cosmetic surgery, which has cost the county about $1 million a year.

"That was a given," McDonald said. "That's not what insurance is for. I said that all along. But we negotiated it in years ago and you have to negotiate to get it out."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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