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Largest union approves contract

The members of the largest union in Niagara County government approved a new contract Wednesday, more than four years after their last one expired.

The deal, approved, 403-347, by members of Civil Service Employees Association Unit 7650, gives members 2.5 percent annual raises for this year and next year, when the pact will expire.

It includes a retroactive 2.5 percent raise for last year and lump-sum payments of 2 percent of salary for 2003, 2004 and 2005, which won't be added to the base for calculating future raises.

The deal won't take effect until approved by the County Legislature, which is expected to vote Jan. 16.

Although the roughly 850 workers will be offered only one health insurance provider, down from the current four, they still will have choices.

"There's three different plans," noted Thomas J. Lafornia, union president. For the most expensive option, workers will have to pay 10 percent of the premiums. The county will continue to pay the full premium for the other two options.

But County Manager Gregory D. Lewis said those plans will include higher copayments for prescriptions and services than the plan that will require a 10 percent contribution.

Lewis said the contract allows workers to establish health reimbursement accounts to cover the copayments.

The insurance plan will be considered self-insured. It will be administered by Nova Healthcare, a subsidiary of Independent Health.

Lewis said the contract does not specify a vendor; therefore, the county has the right to review the vendor's performance in two years and possibly seek new bids.

The contract eliminates coverage for elective cosmetic surgery, which was in one of the four options under the old plan and cost the county up to $1 million a year.

"We have been trying unsuccessfully for years to negotiate the removal of the elective cosmetic surgery rider," Lafornia said.

Three years ago this month, CSEA members rejected a contract because of doubts about its effect on their health coverage.

"We brought it to the members to get their input," Lafornia said. "That was the whole concept. Let's educate them."

Terms of the new contract were hammered out in four sessions with a state mediator after Lewis declared an impasse in September.

Lewis said the contract won't reduce the county's costs, given the growth in health coverage.

"We call it cost containment, not savings," he said. "Health care in the United States has to be reformed, probably at the federal level." But he said the containment "in turn will help us contain property tax increases."


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