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Givebacks sought from workers at county jail In return, employees to get bonuses, raises

The terms of a proposed contract between Erie County and the union that represents jail personnel at the Holding Center call for the workers to contribute to their health insurance, especially in retirement, and surrender some paid time off.

In return, they would receive a lump sum payment that county officials say will average $4,000 a worker, plus a more generous pay scale and six raises of 3 percent a year starting Jan. 1.

The pact will be voted on later this week by Teamsters Local 264, which represents about 100 civilian employees at the jail and 400 sworn jail deputies.

County Executive Chris Collins sees the terms as a model for what he wants to do with all of the government's unions -- provide raises in exchange for long-term concessions, especially on retiree health care.

"It respects future generations," he said. "It ends the days of these legacy costs accruing to our kids with no way to pay for it."

A study by the University at Buffalo concluded that Erie County's price tag for retiree health insurance -- $17 million last year and $18 million this year -- will triple over the next decade.

So far, Collins has one contract in place. It was approved in January by a unit of the New York State Nurses Association, most of whom work for Erie County Medical Center.

That pact ended the county's fully paid retiree health insurance for newly hired nurses. Current nurses are to pay 50 percent of their health care costs in retirement, although nurses who retire within the next five years are exempt from the provision.

The bonuses that went to the nurses and some initial costs of the contract were covered by Erie County's state-appointed control board, which can dole out several million dollars to promote government efficiency.

Collins said he expects the control board also to cover the roughly $2 million in Teamsters bonuses that would address the five years they went without a contract.

While the Teamsters have been without a contract, some Holding Center deputies are among the county's highest paid employees because of overtime.

Collins and the largest union representing Erie County employees, Local 815 of the Civil Service Employees Association, are at an impasse. The CSEA rallied on the steps of the Rath County Office Building last week to decry his effort to retake some benefits.

However, Collins said he expects the county's blue-collar union, Local 1095 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, to soon agree to terms, after it rejected a proposal in June.

Collins has told the county's unions that they cannot expect a raise next year unless they have a contract in place when he presents his 2010 budget to the County Legislature on or before Oct. 15.

"What I have been telling the unions is, I need to have an agreed-to contract before I submit my budget, or there would be no hope for any increase for them in 2010. I could not put forth a budget and then find a place for any sort of a wage increase," he said. "It's amazing how deadlines help people make decisions."

The president of the Teamsters local, Ronald G. Lucas, did not return telephone messages seeking comment about the proposal. But Collins aides said the pact lays out these terms for Teamsters:

Future hires would have to pay 20 percent of the cost of their health insurance, and they would receive no county-paid health insurance when they retire. They would lose two personal leave days.

Current employees would pay 15 percent of future increases in health insurance starting Jan. 1, 2011.

Employees hired since Jan. 1, 2004, would have to pay half the cost of their health insurance in retirement. Employees hired before that date would keep free health insurance in retirement.

The Teamsters would lose the "summer hours" benefit that lets county workers leave work a half-hour early in July and August and get paid for the time. They also would lose two holidays and the provision that gives them $1,200 a year when they waive their family health coverage because a spouse already receives the county's insurance as a county employee.

In exchange, Teamsters would receive a lump sum payment, ranging from $75 to $5,000, depending on their length of service, to address the years that they have gone without a contract. The Collins team said the awards will average $4,000 a person.

Pay would increase 3 percent a year on Jan. 1 of each year through Jan. 1, 2015.

Also, in 2011, sworn officers would jump a job group, increasing their pay an average 6.5 percent. A sworn officer in the highest step of grade 8 would go to a new grade 9, or from about $48,500 to $52,000 a year. Civilian employees would receive a similar benefit.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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