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2-front battle persists for NCCC, faculty union

The long-running battle between Niagara County Community College and its faculty union will continue this month on two fronts.

The faculty association, which is working under terms of a contract that expired six years ago, is pursuing a lawsuit contending that the college improperly altered its health insurance package in 2009.

Also, talks aimed at producing a new contract continue to be stalled, with the sides headed for meetings with a state fact-finder.

But, as NCCC President James P. Klyczek pointed out, the fact-finding process does not mean there is binding arbitration.

"Regardless of the fact-finder's findings, both sides still have to come to an agreement," he said.

There was a bargaining session Tuesday, but Klyczek and union attorney Richard H. Wyssling had different stories about how that one came to be scheduled and whether it accomplished anything.

Wyssling called the meeting "fruitless."

"That isn't the report I got," Klyczek said.

Wyssling said the college administration wanted to set up the meeting after the faculty association brought suit over the health care issue.

Klyczek said the union asked for the session, which surprised him because fact-finding dates were already set for late June.

Wyssling said, "It was their [existing] proposal with some tweaks. It was very disappointing."

Neither man would discuss specifics.

Klyczek said the college is willing to make retroactive salary payments to union members once there's a new contract, but not six years' worth.

Meanwhile, State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III has placed the union's health insurance lawsuit on his June 20 court calendar.

Klyczek said the college's attorneys will argue that the union missed a legal deadline to challenge the ruling of a state arbitrator.

Michael S. Lewandowski of the state Public Employment Relations Board ruled last year that the college violated the union contract when it shifted the professors into a BlueCross BlueShield point-of-service plan, dropping the former menu of various health maintenance organizations from which workers can choose.

However, Lewandowski said the move didn't harm most members. He ordered the college to reimburse professors who suffered out-of-pocket losses; Klyczek said that cost NCCC only about $1,000.

The union demanded that its members should be paid all the money the college saved by making the change, a proposal the arbitrator deemed groundless.

The lawsuit seeks to restore the pre-2009 lineup of health care options.

Klyczek said the college estimated that it would save $700,000 to $900,000 by changing coverages, but steadily rising health costs and a delay in implementation of the move limited the savings to between $300,000 and $400,000.

"But that's still substantial," he said.

The college's proposed 2012-13 budget, due for a public hearing before the County Legislature June 19, estimates a budget-to-budget drop of $324,000 in health insurance costs, despite a projected 10 percent increase in premiums.

That's because the projected increases last year didn't pan out; costs actually fell for some policies.