Cheektowaga's largest employee union is working under a new contract for the first time since Dec. 31, 2009.
By a 6-1 vote, the Cheektowaga Town Board approved a new four-year deal between the town and the Town of Cheektowaga Employees Association following a few years of hard negotiations over staffing levels and employee give-backs that, for a period, was locked in impasse.
By the time the dust settled in March, a tentative agreement was struck by both sides that saw both the town and the union concede on some of its major bargaining points.
When fully implemented, the town stands to save about $800,000 annually, according to Jeffrey F. Swiatek, the former Town Board member who continued his handling of labor negotiations on the town's behalf, as a partner at the Hodgson Russ law firm.
"This contract allows the town to reduce its current cost obligations," Swiatek said. "If the current contract remained in place, it would actually cost $800,000 more."
What the town fought hard for -- and got -- was a 10 percent reduction in the contractual "mandated staffing level" of town employees, from 250 to 225, for a projected cost savings to the town of more than $2 million when fully implemented, Swiatek said.
"These reductions of employees are due to attrition only. We don't plan on laying anyone off or terminating any employees," said Councilman Stanley J. Kaznowski III. "This is a win-win situation. We thank the union for negotiating with the town, which benefits both sides."
The employees union also agreed to cuts in the politically hot town Sanitation Department. There, five positions will be eliminated by reducing the number of residential routes from nine to eight and halving the commercial container routes from two to one.
Employees will also, for the first time, be responsible for contributing toward their own health insurance. Those hired before 2004 will have to pay 5 percent of premiums while those hired between Jan. 1, 2004 and March 11, 2012, will be responsible for 10 percent of health care premiums and employees hired after March 12 will pay 15 percent.
Co-pays for employees will also increase.
"It gives employees a shared burden for their health care," Swiatek said.
The agreement also requires all employees, depending upon hire date, to contribute between 3 percent and 15 percent of the costs of their current retiree health insurance benefits and provides that the town will no longer pay retirement health insurance benefits for new employees.
And wage rates for new employees will be reduced by about $2,500 per year for the first six years of employment.
What the employees get back from the town are 2 percent, across-the-board wage increases retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010, as well as longevity increases of $50 per step in their contract with $100 at the 20th and 25th steps.
Council Member Angela M. Wozniak cast the lone "nay" vote against approving the contract, citing her disagreement -- that she says her constituents share -- over the town retaining any "minimum staffing requirement" in the contract.
"The town has been overstaffed with this union since 1993 [when it increased its staffing levels from 258 to 270]," said Wozniak, arguing that while the union agreed to reduce its staffing minimum from 270 to 250 in its 1998 contract, it took 13 years to get down that low.
"Why aren't we just reducing [employees] to the minimum level now?" Wozniak asked.